I Want You to Know (A Poem for My Daughters About Madiba)

*I wrote this poem in December 2013, shortly after Nelson Mandela's death. I wanted to write something so my daughters would have a framework to learn about this giant of a man.
nelson mandela robben island winnie freedom long walk

I Want You To Know (A Poem On the Passing of Nelson Mandela)

I want you to know sweet daughters
That a man lived, loved, sacrificed and forgave for his people.
I want you to know these words
Ndiwelimilambo enamagama
Let these foreign syllables roll in your mouth like marbles
Know that this saying was embodied by a man:
I have crossed famous rivers.

I want you to know that the world you see was not always this way
Just when our country had defeated the evils of the Nazi Germany
Another hateful plague descended that we did not stop
From the streets of Johannesburg to the rolling countryside of the Transkei
African, Coloured, Indians and whites were set apart
Men, women, and babies
graded and annotated like animals on
pieces of paper according to the shade of their skin.

No my sweet daughters,
This did not happen 150 years ago
but 60 years ago.
I want you to know that this evil was defeated
Not by armies, guns or atomic bombs—
But by bludgeoned bloody sacrifice
By generations
                       of gut-wrenching perseverance
And finally dealt its death blow by a forgiveness so

deep                                                                            and wide

that it baptized an entire nation.

My sweet daughters,
I want you to know the story a man called
Madiba (his clan name),
and Tatomkhulu (grandfather),
Rolihlahla (the troublemaker),
(Nelson was just an English name his teacher gave him because she couldn’t pronounce his African one)
who walked this earth for 95 years.

Of those years, eighteen he endured breaking limestone
rocks on Robben Island
his eyes burned out
hollowed by the sun’s fired reflection.

It is not enough, though, to simply observe and remember
That he spent twenty-seven long years imprisoned.

My sweet daughters, we must count the years together out LOUD
For I want you to feel the weight of those decades on your tongues:
One year
Two years
Three years
Four years
Five years
Six years
Seven years
Eight Years
Nine Years
Ten Years
Eleven Years
Twelve years
Thirteen years
Fourteen years
Fifteen years
Sixteen years
Seventeen years
Eighteen years
Nineteen years
Twenty years
Twenty one years
Twenty two years
Twenty three years
Twenty four years
Twenty five years
Twenty six years




As those years wore on him like so many boulders
As the goliath death beckoned and demanded him

Madiba struck back and answered with the call of his proud father
Andizi, ndisaquala: I will not come, I am still girding for battle.

I want you to know,
That this man walked out of that prison
And left his hatred with his chains

I want you to know sweet girls
That the grace of love is more powerful than hate
But far more costly
And I want you to know
the most incredible thing:
Madiba’s long walk to freedom
was not just for those shackled but also for the oppressor.
His sacrifice liberated a nation

I want you to know this:
Forgiveness trumps evil and trounces hatred
In the end it was forgiveness that tore down apartheid
and built up a nation.

Finally my dear sweet Macee and Betty
I want you to know that on the 5th of December 2013
A mountain of man’s battle ended
And Madiba lay down his weapons

and crossed one last famous river.


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