During the spring and summer of 1989, while I was teaching at the National University of Rwanda, I wrote “Fear Not, South Africa” to protest the incarceration of Nelson Mandela by the apartheid regime of South Africa. Towards the end of July 1989, I left Rwanda for the United States of America, as a Fulbright grantee, to pursue a Ph.D. in English and American Literature. In the fall of 1989, I began attending the State University of New York at Buffalo. In the spring of 1990, I enrolled in a creative writing poetry graduate seminar and submitted the poem for feedback and suggestions for improvement. After reading the poem and explaining what I was attempting to accomplish in it, I received several questions about Nelson Mandela. To my surprise, neither my classmates nor my teacher seems to understand why I was ready to sacrifice Nelson Mandela so that Black South Africans could recover their freedom. A few weeks later, Nelson Mandela took a long walk to freedom on February 11, 1990. I was overjoyed. That evening, I received a phone call from Professor Irving Feldman, my creative poetry teacher. “Pierre-Damien, now I understand your poem and the magnitude of Nelson Mandela.”
FEAR NOT, SOUTH AFRICA
For Nelson Mandela (Rwanda/Spring-Summer 1989-University at Buffalo/Spring 1990)
Tunalia sisi wana wa Afrika
Tunalia Nelson Mandela
[We are crying, we the children of Africa
We are crying for Nelson Mandela]
From “Sisi Mandela,” Congolese Rumba song by Tabu Ley Seigneur Rochereau (November 13, 1940- November 30, 2013) & M’Bilia Bel.
Fear not, South Africa.
You are the foot of Africa
created by almighty NKOSI,
given to Africans,
to SHAKA ka SENZANGAKHONA and ZULU people
but later stolen by racists.
Before these Cain’s eldest sons,
you wore beauty and life.
You were neither Black nor White
but harmoniously colored.
But hardly were you stolen
that homicidal predators made of you
the land of all evils in the world,
the land of butchery and bloodshed,
the land of weaponry—
fire, tear gas, guns, tanks……
all homing on destroying African people,
driving them from their hometowns,
making them homesteadless in their
But South Africa,
Every Black killed strengthens those in struggle.
SOWETO Students did not breathe their last.
They gave life, courage to SOWETO people.
STEVE BANTU BIKO’s blood was not a raisin dried up.
It bore a grain of hope in its fruitfulness.
If necessary, South Africa,
NELSON MANDELA will follow
just to free you and your children
from perennial whips,
from military camps in schools,
from ambush on the roads.
South Africa, Fear Not.
The gulf is at hand
to engulf apartheid and its acolytes.
Surely and shortly
Blacks will have equal rights.
From then on, South Africa,
Amity, not enmity,
Equity, not iniquity,
Equality, not inequality,
Integration, not segregation,
You shall forever enjoy.
Pierre-Damien Mvuyekure is Professor of English and American/African American literature in the Department of Languages and Literatures at the University of Northern Iowa. He is the author of The “Dark Heathenism” of the American Novelist Ishmael Reed: African Voodoo as American Literary HooDoo (2007), Lamentations on the Rwandan Genocide (2006), World Eras Volume 10: West African Kingdoms, 500-1590 ( 2004), A Casebook Study of Ishmael Reed’s Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down (2003).