Mandela Danced Favorite 



Jan 1 1980


South Africa

Mandela's notion of manhood changed over time. In the early days, he evoked the image of toughness to deal with an enemy that would not respond to reason. When it became possible to secure peace through talking, Mandela adapted. After his release his image was one of warmth and inclusiveness, embracing those who feared majority rule and even his former enemies.

When Mandela danced along with others at political rallies, they were toyi-toying but his shuffle-dance carried a very gentle, affable meaning. The toyi-toyi derives from war times and zones, probably from Zimbabwe African People's Union and learned by Umkhonto weSizwe soldiers in the camps, or possibly even from Algeria. It is a dance that was initially performed mainly by men, by soldiers, and its words are aggressive, directed at the apartheid regime, with repeated reference to hitting and killing.

Mandela refashioned the imagery of such a dance, especially during his presidency. It evoked someone with whom you could feel safe and affirmed. The imagery was non-militaristic.

Compare this with the way the dance and the songs of the freedom struggle were deployed by Jacob Zuma, notably in the context of his rape trial. He revived the song uMshini wam (Bring me my machine gun), which is obviously both militaristic and evocative of phallic imagery. In contrast to Mandela's toyi-toyi, this was part of a discourse that created a sense of danger and projected a figure to be feared. One of the undertones was that women, especially those who supported the rape complainant, did not have reason to feel safe.

Mandela's qualities as a man need to be studied carefully for our society's benefit. In the first place, he demonstrated a willingness to learn and to change over time. His was a continuously evolving masculinity. There was nothing macho about the mature Mandela; we need to reflect on this and impress on the youth that there is no value in trying to instill fear in others, and that courage is compatible with tenderness.


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