Tribute to the late Ambassador Miriam Makeba by Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma at the ANC Caucus Memorial Service: Old Assembly Building. Parliament, Cape Town, 19 November 2008
Members of the National Executive Committee
Chairperson of Caucus
Chairpersons of ANC Study Groups
Comrades and Friends
Miriam Makeba suffered a heart attack in Italy After her singing her song “Pata Pata” while taking part in a concert organised to support the writer Roberto Saviano in his stand against the Camorra a Mafia like organization she died whilst serving humanity.
This is the end of a beautiful but extraordinary life. Miriam like a pretty African butterfly flew here and there leaving an unforgettable mark on all the lives of those whose path she crossed.
It is indeed befitting that the ANC Caucus today, commemorates the untimely death of that legend and stalwart of our struggle- Miriam Zenzile Makeba- arguably one of the most talented artists of our time- that our country has ever produced.
From humble beginnings, and as a toddler spent time in prison with her mother who was arrested for selling beer and lost her father when she was around six years. Miriam Makeba epitomises the determination of our people to reach greater heights despite all the odds, and the systematic impediments placed upon them by the system of apartheid- declared a crime against humanity by the United Nations.
Today, as we join millions of our people in commemorating Miriam Makeba’s death, we do so not to satisfy any protocol requirement but correctly because Miriam Makeba represents that generation of our people and leaders who used whatever they knew best to pursue the struggle for freedom- in her case music
Whilst she had an opportunity to develop her musical career within the limited confines created by the apartheid system, Miriam Makeba understood too well that her musical career could only flourish under a democratic, non-racial and non-sexist society.
Indeed it was in 1955 that the people of our country had declared for the world and all to know that democratic South Africa will among others ensure that “the doors of learning and culture shall be opened to all”
This pretty butterfly starts a remarkable singing career singing at weddings and singing at school and with an amateur group. Before long she was with Manhattan Brothers, the Skylarks her own group and she performed in the musical King Kong with Hugh Masekela.
Harry Belafonte assisted Miriam Makeba to enter the United States of America after meeting with her in London. She truly blossomed not only as a musician who sang South African songs but also in conscientising the world about the plight of black people under apartheid and in 1966, she received a Grammy Award for Best Folk Recording.
She could not come back to South Africa to bury her mother because the apartheid regime had revoked her passport. After making an incredible impression at the United Nations, where she described South Africa as a nightmare of police brutality and government terrorism, her South African citizenship and right to return to South Africa was revoked.
Wherever Miriam Makeba was, one could be certain that through art, song and dance, she would miss no opportunity to mobilise the peoples of the world behind the banner of the just cause for national liberation and in defence of our dignity and our pride.
Understanding that unless Africa is firmly behind the banner of our liberation, it would be difficult for the world in general to support our struggle, Makeba set about mobilising the peoples of our continent behind the struggle against apartheid through what she did best-the art of singing.
It is therefore befitting that she carried passports of many African countries and Cuba as she traversed the world mobilising against the system of apartheid colonialism in all its manifestations. In this regard our Miriam Makeba became a truly African icon, who not only espoused the cause of freedom for the South African people but indeed also because a voice for all Africans on the continent and the Diaspora
After rising to fame in the USA, the system in America just like the system in her homeland turned cruelly and completely against her, only because she dared to love and marry a Civil Rights activist Stokely Carmichael. The tours and recording deals dried up.
They moved to Guinea where they became the guests of President Sekou’ Toure and where she continued her music in Africa. Mama Afrika as she became affectionately known experienced both the pain of divorce and the later death of her only daughter.
She became the symbol of peace and freedom struggle through her remarkable music talent. Mama Afrika became one of the world’s most prominent black African performers and of the 20th century and the most well known South Africans until Nelson Mandela’s release from prison.
She performed at the birth of the organization of the African Unity in 1963 and at the birthday salute of US President Kennedy in 1961, where she was the only foreign artist. She performed for the Pope, Presidents like Fidel Castro and Jacques Chirac.
Jacques Rene Chirac’s considered her one of his favorite musicians. Ironically SABC TV and radio had banned her music.
It is befitting that in her death, Miriam was not only mourned by the people of South Africa, but the rest of the African continent, the African Diaspora and indeed the rest of the democratic world. If South Africa lost a daughter, Africa lost a mother, the Diaspora lost a voice and humanity lost one of the greatest music icons.
Despite her long years in exile Makeba never lost touch with her African heritage and legacy. On the contrary, Makeba remained proud of her being an African, proud and beautiful at a time when everything African was associated with pessimism. She guarded her African identity jealously.
She inspired lasting African fashion during the launch of “Black is beautiful” slogan.
She said “I see other black women imitate my style, which is no style at all, but just letting our hair be itself, they call it the Afro look” loving yourself is the beginning of your liberation and she loved everything African.
She became a tireless fighter for the African continent, she was a living legend and a truly remarkable person, and she was not only recognised for her music but for her social and humanitarian work. She received a Dag Hammarskjöld prize and many others.
After returning to South Africa, she did not only continue with her music but also made her own contribution to a better life for all. Conscience of the abuse that women suffered she established the Makeba Centre for Girls in Midrand and went on tours fundraising for the Centre.
Makeba as always would not stand idly by and watch as millions of Africans die from malnutrition, poverty, under-development and infectious diseases but would want to mobilise the world to release the resources at its disposal to ensure a prosperous continent. Consequently when FAO and President Mbeki on behalf of our Government appointed her as Goodwill Ambassador to Africa, this provided our beloved Makeba with an excellent opportunity to do what she does best-mobilising the world through art and song behind efforts aimed at creating sustainable development in our country, the region and indeed the entire continent of Africa. A duty she had performed voluntarily for decades without the title. I can say without fear of contradiction that she’s amongst the 1st Ambassadors of a democratic South Africa.
Mama Afrika was a beautiful African woman. Her humility, her generosity, her respect and her love made her an exceptional human being.
She managed to cushion and support her grandchildren and made them part and parcel of her life as a musician. It was always a pleasure to see her perform with her granddaughter Zenzi and the band featuring her grandson Lumumba Nelson Lee and of course sometimes with the great grandson Lindelani. For a grandmother this was a great achievement. How many of us as parents are able to achieve that?
Robin Denselon in The Guardian of May 16, 2008 writes about Mama Afrika;
Makeba has clear views on why young South Africans have failed to make the same impact in the west as herself, or other veterans like Hugh Masekela or Ladysmith Black Mambazo did she said “Its because they want to sound like Americans. I’d like to see them develop our music and sing it their way, but they think sounding American is going to take them higher, but it is not. They have beautiful voices, but they want to sound like Whitney Houston. You can’t beat people like that at their own game. And they can’t beat me at mine either!”
There is a lot to learn from Mama Afrika. We can rise from whatever background and circumstance if we use our talent and use our fame for the benefit of humanity.
Unity is strength; she was always advocating unity and her song “Masakhane”. She has taught us that we should go about our work no matter how talented or powerful quietly, we must “Curb our anger and use a more subtle approach. We must try not to be tornados but be like submarines” as she herself was taught by Harry Belafonte.
She has taught us humility and generosity. That we should always strive to bequeath to future generations a better world than the one we found.
Mama Afrika taught us to love ourselves as Africans and that we are as good as anyone and that we can be the best as she was the best.
I would think that as she departs from this world, she was content not only because South Africa was free and the continent was taking its rightful place but also because the world witnessed the historic victory of President Elect Barack Obama. This was the victory in a long and difficult relay that was started by the African slaves and continued by many Afro Americans.
She will be able to report that we are about to witness the most historic transition in the United States of America from the G.W Bush administration to that of the Barack Obama administration.
Mama Afrika taught us that “Yes we can”
She is of course immortalized through her music, the challenge to emulate her is not only with the artists but all of us, because there is a lesson for each and everyone of us.
Let us all rededicate ourselves to the better life for all in a better Africa and in a better world.
Let us keep up the good work she started by amongst other things supporting the Makeba Centre for Girls.
As the ANC we reach out in deep thought and prayer to Lumumba, Zenzile Lindelani, Ayanda and indeed the entire Makeba family during these trying moments knowing that your pain is shared by millions around the country, the region, the continent and the entire world.
We thank your family for surrendering a daughter, sister, mother and grand-mother to that greatest cause of humanity.
Mama Afrika go well, you will remain an inspiration to all of us especially at times like these.
We are richer in spirit for having known her love and her excellence.
Mama Afrika will continue singing with the angels and OR Tambo who loved music.
In a poem written by Walter Whitman, it reads…
“O Captain my captain, our fearful trip is done
The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is within reach
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red
Where on the deck my Captain lies
Fallen Cold and Deaf
O Captain! My Captain! Rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up-for you the flag is flung for you the bugle trills
For you bouquets and ribboned wreaths for you the shores
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning
This arm beneath your head
It is some dream that on the deck
You have fallen cold and dead”
May your soul rest in peace