BASSETERRE, ST. KITTS, 11 December 2013:
“Death has a time to steal us away,
Death has a time to steal us away,
Death has a time to steal us away,
Steal us and carry us away.”
As the words of this old Jamaican Nine-Night(s) folk mourning hymn hauntingly and liltingly waft into our collective consciousness, we lament, “what a steal!” And indeed, what a theft this one has been, which has so colossally deprived the human family of one of its larger-than-life icons. Only last year did we recall the fact of how rare are the persons in the modern era who have had an indelibly lasting impact on the lives of a people; how much rarer still are those who have moved a regional consciousness into action, and how yet further rare are those who have evinced a power of conviction that impacted the entire planet. Thus were we thrilled to acknowledge the landmark birthday of one such rarity, as ensconced in the unique essence that was His Excellency, Nelson Rolihlahla “Madiba” Mandela. But now, here we are, left to ponder…what a steal!
We, the members of the Jamaican Kittitian (JamKit) Association, join the human swell that mourns the passing of this titan of history, while celebrating the life that was lived in such singular and potent terms. Every element of his personhood: from his rural upbringing, to his athletic youth, through his legal maturation to his political juggernauting: gives us cause for pause in contemplating the profundity of his contribution to the human experience. Such has been the impact of his passing as would leave us mute for response and numb for emotion, even against the backdrop of our awareness of his ailment in recent times. Still, we note our gratitude to this man for his shared passion for justice, and our gratitude for having been afforded the privilege of sharing him.
There is a piqued intensity experienced by many Jamaicans in relation to this son of the African vein. We still recall, with animated memory, the JBC coverage of the forlorn and dark days of apartheid South Africa. We recall the twenty seven (27) years of isolation at Robben Island Penitentiary, as endured by Mandela and countless others; their efforts bringing about the Rainbow Nation’s triumphant transition into a new era of democracy and reconciliation. For those privileged enough to have visited the country at various points of that journey, there is appreciated the magnitude of the change that transpired to lead into a period of justice and truth to which we must all aspire in our various dispensations across the world. These are the elements that make more sombre our mourning and yet more ebullient our joy at the fact that we were all bequeathed with a fleeting period of his impact.
We as a Jamaican people remember the fact that it was in the year when Jamaica was gaining political independence, almost to the day: the 5th of August 1962: that we saw the deprivation of Nelson Mandela’s own liberty with his infamous incarceration. We remember the fact that, despite the twenty seven (27) years of his confinement, Mr. Mandela remained a formidable part of the world’s consciousness, while still a prisoner of conscience. We remember the inordinate outpouring of national solidarity with South Africa, when Mandela visited our shores in July 1991, and we willingly shared the experience of struggle that led to his ultimate release. We remember the musical contributions made by Jamaicans to the anti-apartheid struggle that he so warmly appreciated upon his release, and the lesson that he taught of how the arts could lift the human spirit. Indeed, we will look anew, with proudly yet humbly nuanced eyes, at the South African flag, with its inclusion of the Jamaican flag in its leftmost quadrant as an ultimate symbol of our fraternity and bond.
It is with this wealth of memory and an attendant sense of indescribable loss that our JamKit Association wishes to extend, alongside our Kittitian and Nevisian friends and family, expressions of condolences to the Mandela family, to his clan, tribe and the South African people. Our hearts break with all of yours at the fact that Madiba has been returned to the ages. Still, we accept the fact that his mission remains as universal as it is timeless: the abiding quest for justice, open to all: both great and small. We embrace his passion for equality even in the midst of differences; his humility in the face of great achievement; and his responsibility in times of uncharted exigencies. We hope to be worthy of the legacy left by him.
Let us hope that the inspiration to be derived from a life like that of Nelson Mandela will provide each of us with the drive to try, in our own ways, to make the world a better place. And, as His Excellency Mandela said, let us ensure that we remember that “what counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived, [but]…it is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”
Thank you, Madiba, for aiding us all on our long walks to freedom.
“To you, Madiba: One Love, waak gud, an’ gud doppi waak wid yuh.”
 The Nine Night ritual is a funeral rite of passage observed in countries like Jamaica. Also referred to as “Dead Yard”, it is an extended wake that lasts for several days (generally 9), during which time friends and family members of a deceased come together to mourn the departed, celebrate their life and share memories, food and songs/hymns
2 Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation: the former television station servicing Jamaica
Jamaican Kittitian (JamKit) Association
P O Box 1770