Mandela and Music and Sports as Cultural Conduits for Unity

Posted July 20th, 2015 at 4:54 pm (UTC-4)
2 comments

#MandelaDay“Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed towards the sun, one’s feet moving forward.” – Nelson Mandela

After a rainy morning, the sun broke out in Frederick, Maryland, the venue for an enriching and educational Mandela Day program.

The United Nations formally declared July 18th, Nelson Mandela’s birthday, as a day to honor South Africa’s late President and anti-apartheid icon through volunteering and community

Sonny and Kathy Sledge

Sonny and Kathy Sledge

service.

I spoke in Frederick on a four-person panel that discussed Mandela and sports and music as cultural conduits for unity. Sitting beside me was Kathy Sledge, of “Sister Sledge,” whose 1979 hit song, “We Are Family,” gave a dance beat to family unity:

“We are family / I got all my sisters with me / We are family / Get up everybody and sing / Everyone can see we’re together / As we walk on by / (FLY!) and we fly just like birds of a feather.”

“We Are Family” is a song brimming with optimism, and when I said it also was the theme song for the 1979 World Series baseball champion Pittsburgh Pirates, Kathy Sledge smiled and nodded her head in agreement.

Nelson Mandela once said, “It is music and dancing that makes me at peace with the world,” and in my mind’s eye, I can see him dancing to “We Are Family” the same way he danced to Johnny Clegg’s “Asimbonanga.”

Nelson Mandela also viewed sports as a unifying force. Here’s a Mandela quote that I read at the Frederick conference:

“Sport has the power to change the world…it has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.”

South African President Nelson Mandela (L) shakes hands with Springboks captain Francois Pienaar after 1995 Rugby World Cup final. Photo: Reuters

South African President Nelson Mandela (L) shakes hands with Springboks captain Francois Pienaar after 1995 Rugby World Cup final. Photo: Reuters

In terms of breaking down racial barriers, two other panelists mentioned Nelson Mandela presenting the trophy to South Africa’s white captain, Francois Pienaar, after the 1995 Rugby World Cup final in Johannesburg.

The mostly-white crowd at Ellis Park cheered loudly in what’s being described as one of the greatest moments in the history of sports. I pointed out at the conference what Mandela was wearing in the stadium – a Springboks rugby jersey and ballcap.

While some Presidents might be dressed in suit and tie for such an occasion, Nelson Mandela used his attire to be part of, not apart from, in a show of sports unity and solidarity.

Sonny Young
Since 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.

2 responses to “Mandela and Music and Sports as Cultural Conduits for Unity”

  1. segun Adeyemi says:

    This is quite inspirational, and indeed speaks to who Mandela really was, in terms of his love for sport (he was once a boxer) and music (he never shied away from showing his deft dance steps).

    Then, of course, Sister Sledge, the group that rocked the world in the late 1970s with their hit song ‘We are family’.

    Last week, that same song triggered a huge dance fest at my wife’s school’s graduation right here in Lagos!

    Thank you Sonny for your rich contribution to the Mandela Day programme!

  2. Matilda Rosewook says:

    Sonny, this is beautiful! I loved your quotes from Nelson Mandela.You brought in so many elements – his optimism, his love of music and dance, the way he’s being honored through volunteering and community service, and his belief that sports “has the power to change the world.” And you ended with a concrete example of that belief – the 1995 Rugby World Cup final in Johannesburg, where he dressed in the Springboks rugby jersey and cap as a way of demonstrating his belief in the symbolic power of sports.

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Sonny Side of Sports is an energetic and action-packed look at both world and African sports, broadcast on radio, TV and the Internet. Since the show’s creation in 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.

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