Becoming by Athol Williams

“Who was Nelson Mandela?”
I hear a boy ask, standing behind me.

I am standing at the bronze bust of the great man
beside the Royal Festival Hall, London’s South Bank,

“He was a terrorist,”
an adult male replies, with a British tongue,
“he killed white people in Africa.”

Send her victorious, happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us, God save the Queen!

I turn around, grab the man by the neck,
tightly wrap my hands around his throat,
pressing hard with both my thumbs
into his windpipe. He struggles for life
as Mandela did, as we all did.

Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika
Maluphakanyisw’ uphondo lwayo*

He begins emptying of consciousness to allow
space for wisdom. The boy starts kicking me
and hitting my arms, “Leave my daddy alone,”
he screams frantically.

I let go of the man’s throat but not his ignorance.
He gasps for breath, coughs violently.

“Why are you kicking me and hitting me?”
I ask the boy, “you’re hurting me, are you a terrorist?”
“No, you were hurting my daddy, you’re the terrorist,”
he says, righteousness in his eyes, derision
on his tongue for my imbecilic question.

I wonder if the boy will ever understand. I wonder
if he will understand the brotherhood
into which we have both entered,
into which all, who know injustice, enter.

His father understands, looking up at me,
eyes glazed, the lesson finding home in his mind,
the crisp fresh air finding home in his lungs.

Two cops drag me away, arrested for my terrorist act.

Scatter her enemies and make them fall;
Confound their politics, frustrate their knavish tricks,
On Thee our hopes we fix, God save us all!

* These are two lines from the South African national anthem. The English translation is: God bless Africa, May her spirit rise high up

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