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Nelson Mandela – and storytelling

December 7, 2013




As I drive past all the flags at half mast today, I remember that day seven years ago when I stood in a tiny prison cell at Robbens Island and  marveled (as so many others have) at how a man as brutalized as he was, could have emerged from prison harboring such forgiveness. How, at 72, he was still able to prevent a civil war, and create a new state. I had gone to South Africa with a group of storytellers. I remember what an emotional experience that prison had been for some of my African-American colleagues. But, of course, it was an emotional experience for all of us. I will never forget it.

But I didn’t know until two or three years later how intimately Nelson Mandela was linked to storytelling. It was then that I found a book called “Favorite African Folktales” edited by Mr. Mandela. (W W Norton & Company, New York, London, 2002, ISBN: 0-393-32624-1). It is a treasure trove of traditional and contemporary folk tales from many different cultures and countries in Africa. Beautifully edited, the stories almost jump from the page, begging to be TOLD – not just read. It was wonderful then – and is still wonderful today – to know that this great man understood the importance of these stories. This is what he said in the Introduction:

“It is my wish that the voice of the storyteller will never die in Africa, that all the children in the world may experience the wonder of books, and that they will never lose the capacity to enlarge their earthly dwelling place with the magic of stories.”

Rest in peace, Madiba. And know that we will carry on your work – joyfully.

Note: The above was originally published in South Africa under the title: “Madiba Magic: Nelson Mandela’s Favorite Stories for Children” and first published in the US as “Nelson Mandela’s Favorite African Folktales”.

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