Academic journal article Pennsylvania Literary Journal

Connections: Egadini: A Tribute to Madiba and Mama Miti

Academic journal article Pennsylvania Literary Journal

Connections: Egadini: A Tribute to Madiba and Mama Miti

Article excerpt

When I went to Robben Island,

Grim, barren outpost of pain and despair and barbaric


Separated from Africa by an unforgiving ocean,

Atlantic swells buffeting the rocky landscape and a lone ostrich

scrambling over rough-edged stones,

I stood at your cell door, Madiba, Prisoner number 46664

And contemplated your eighteen years of isolation on this island

from family and friends and the country you loved most of all,

Tortured but not broken,

Your emotional distress assuaged by the tomatoes and onions

and chilies you grew in the little spot of land you tended,

Your garden,

You - the prisoner in your garden -

Photographed by the apartheid authorities defiantly leaning on

a spade,

"A prisoner working in the garden,"

'"n Gevangene werksaam in die tuin," they said,17

A grim "charade," then.18

But later, it was the gardening that saved you,

This sliver of once-barren land - that you nurtured and recog-

nized as the only place in this earthly hell that you could "con-

trol" - to use your words - "to plant a seed, watch it grow, to

tend it and then harvest it" - an "enduring satisfaction" - you

christened it.19

And this garden, this reverie-space of freedom which enabled

you to cultivate a harvest of political ideas amongst ripening

crops -

- Like the dream of Wangari Maathai to do her "little thing,"

To plant trees, to "reduce, re-use, and repair" the world20 -

This garden became your haven, your free space, where nurtur-

ing the soil, you dreamed of healing your country,

Of freeing it from the shackles of terror.

Of empowering your people to reclaim the land that rightfully

belonged to them,

For, like Mama Miti, the Mother of Trees,

You recognized the power of growing, of nurturing, and of refor-

esting the land.

And as I stood on the Island, next to your plants, not far from the

limestone quarry that ruined your eyes,

The concrete walls that barricaded your freedom,

I imagined an invisible thread running from you to Mama Miti,

Linking you both - gardeners of Africa - visionaries who both

sought to empower through cultivation, to renew through sus-


And I knew that her words and her dreams - her vision for an

Africa which "starts" with the "planting" of "ten trees"21 and cul-

minates in rich forests of renewed life,

Those words connected you both,

Then, when you, Madiba, were isolated in your Robben Island


And now, even as you are cherished in your garden of liberty

today. …

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