A day of particular reflection

Monday was July 18. The birthday of one Nelson Roli-hlahla Mandela, 98 years ago, in 1918.

A day of particular reflection.

What could one write, which has not been written?

Perhaps it is worth re-telling a simple story.

It is by Antony Osler – a former Zen monk and an advocate, a human rights lawyer, who now lives on a farm in the arid Karoo with his wife Margie.

He is the author of Stoep Zen and Zen Dust.

(And, a very long time ago, he was also my first music teacher.)

Writing in his latest book, Mzansi Zen, Osler asks: “What are we to make of this world – and of our country, Mzansi? Of this place where beauty and heartache keep us so off balance?

“How do we live in this wash of brilliance and disappointment, of courage, cowardice and cynicism?”

Osler tells the story of when he was a labour mediator, on December 5, 2013.

Here is the story:

The morning that Nelson Mandela died, I was arbitrating a dispute in Kimberley.

Before me were two old enemies.

On my right, a white employer from a construction site who hated the new South Africa and, especially, black trade unions.

On my left the devil in person, the black trade union organiser.

The case file was an unhappy mess of angry letters and accusations, sarcasm and point-scoring.

I walked in and shook everyone by the hand.

“This is not an ordinary day,” I said. “I am going to sit here in silence for a minute.

“If this is in any way uncomfortable for you, I don’t mind if you wait outside.”

I sat and closed my eyes.

Nobody left the room.

The clock on the wall ticked.

A chair creaked.

Then the trade union official began to pray aloud, asking for God’s blessing now that our father had gone home.

Outside the window, a bus changed gear.

I stirred in my seat and lifted my head, ready to begin the proceedings.

But the employer was weeping. He was inconsolable.

Already, we were in unmapped territory.

To give him time to compose himself, I busied myself with the file, flipping through the papers.

Then the trade union organiser walked over to the employer and put his arm around him.

“Together, Sir,” he said softly, “we will make things right here.”

That was Antony Osler’s story.


Let us make things right here, South Africa.

Happy Birthday, Madiba.