This article, by Jay Heale, was broadcast on Fine Music Radio, Cape Town, on 13th January 2014.

What were you doing on Tuesday 10 December, while thousands walked through the drenching rain to be at the Commemorative Service for Nelson Mandela at the FNB Stadium? I’ll tell you what I was doing, because you’ll never guess.

I was in the library hall at Simon’s Town, together with about 75 children, a number of helpers, supporters, librarians and parents – and a motley collection of storytellers, singers, drummers, story-readers, dancers, and a violinist, Anele Mhllahlo, who talked as he played and whose violin seemed to sing in the air.

Because of the day, there was, of course, a reading about Nelson Mandela, written by children, read aloud to violin accompaniment. And after that something of the “Madiba Magic” arrived amongst us. The drummers, singers, dancers, storytellers (coming from Khayelitsha, UCT, wherever) were all skilled and professional in their attitude, but they had never met each other before. No rehearsal. No real schedule. Just an invitation to be there, issued by Lesley Beake on behalf of the Children’s Book Network, and her guiding hand weaving the threads together.

I can’t tell you because I can’t remember exactly what happened. All I do know is that from a book- and story-centered theme, words and music gathered together in an unbroken, exhilarating, invincible momentum – until all the children were on their feet (and most of the wrinklies as well) pounding and dancing and caught up in … no, it wasn’t wild and frenzied … it was overwhelmingly joyous and infectious and fun! And exhausting.

Then there came cake and cool-drinks, naturally, because it was a party. And because it was essentially a book party, organised by the Children’s Book Network with benevolent sponsors, every single child went home with a brand new illustrated children’s dictionary inside a bright-coloured bag, clutched wonderingly.

As Lesley Beake wrote afterwards: “The drums reached crescendo as the children formed a ring and encouraged each other to dance alone in its shelter, clapping and drumming and joyful, remembering and celebrating.

Madiba has not gone. He will always live in the hearts of children, dancing.”

So, children’s books and fine music can be most closely connected!

Finally, a reminder that in his Foreword to the story collection Madiba Magic, Nelson Mandela stated:

“It is my wish that the voice of the storyteller will never die in South Africa, that all the children of Africa 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.”


Freelance reviewer specialising in youth literature from South Africa and around the world. Editor of www.bookchat.co.za

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