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Madiba

There aren’t many places to go in New York when you’re homesick for a lekker South African meal. For ‘n bietjie bobotie, some pap & vleis, a bowl of mngqusho, or a slice of malva pudding. Up until Sunday night, there was only one place to go that fed your soul just as much as it did your stomach.
To residents who live in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, Madiba became a staple on the block of Dekalb and Carlton streets, opposite the Edmonds Playground, close to the park. To South Africans – and Africans – it became a home-away-from-home. A place to go when you wanted to support your team during the Soccer World Cup. When you needed to mourn the death of Nelson Mandela with others who felt the depth of the loss. When you wanted to vent about the US presidential election and the rise of Donald Trump. Or when you just wanted to catch some local kwaito or jazz tunes. 
Owner Mark Henegan started the restaurant 19 years ago, when he and his wife took over a rice-and-beans spot, adding 5 tables and a make-shift bar to create Madiba. Mark wanted to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela, to the ideals of freedom he stood for, and the example of sacrifice he served to his country. I remember interviewing Mark when he was expanding to a Harlem location and him telling me about how much he wanted to keep Mandela’s legacy going in the US, for others to follow.
“Mandela was the peacemaker. He said, ‘put down your pangas and your guns.’ He embraced rugby, the Afrikaners, and, through the TRC, helped us come together. We’re all the reflection and image of God – we all have the ability to do great things. If everyone can just do a little bit, we can all make wonders happen. Somebody that went to jail for what he believed in, became president of South Africa. Could you imagine being in that moment in that time, coming out of prison and becoming a president? It’s almost crazy.”
Brooklyn was the first place Madiba went on his first visit to NYC, which was also his first to the US, upon being released from prison. Mark himself was told he was crazy to open up Madiba, as a white man in what was then a predominantly black area that had a problem with drugs. Over the years Fort Greene has changed and morphed into a hip part of Brooklyn, with gentrification causing property prices to surge. Mark has made his battles with rent known – he didn’t have a proper lease on the building and so the restaurant’s future was always unknown.
To have made it this long is testimony to the family behind the scenes – to Mark, who was born in Benoni and grew up in Durban, to his sister, who helped him financially get the place on its feet, to his brother, who spent many a night behind the bar. But also, to those who became family, which is essentially, anyone who walked through Madiba’s doors.
The restaurant attracted a warm hub of people, working with the nearby community to help plant food gardens for local charities and becoming the place to hang out for regular customers. “Madiba is about community; it’s about family, wrapped in a blanket. It doesn’t matter if you’re from South Africa or not. I don’t look at it as a restaurant, I look at it as a community space,” Mark had once told me. It was a space we all could go for a little of that Madiba magic in the US of A.

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It’s been a few weeks since the Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (leaving me weeping in my seat). The film has since had a theme song, written by U2, added to it, and premiered in South Africa, where it received a warm reception from my fellow countrymen and women who don’t just accept any ol’ Madiba impersonation. Last week US Pres Barack Obama screened it at the White House, and next month the British Royal Family will attend the Royal Film Performance of the film too.

On Thursday night the film premiered in New York, the first city Madiba visited in the US upon his release from prison, before he went on to become president. I like to think the city has a special relationship with his legacy, after it threw a massive ticker-tape parade for him, in June of 1990, as he began his efforts to personally cement US support for the ANC in the run-up to the country’s first democratic elections.

Various guests came out to the premiere, among them Tony Bennett, The Rolling Stones’ Ronnie Wood, Ashanti, Rosario Dawson, and the Reverend Al Sharpton, who was an observer during the elections. He told me he hopes a younger generation will see the film and come away from it with a little more insight into Madiba’s life. Mandela’s daughter Zindzi, who has been attending the high-profile screenings of the film, says she’s seen it 4 times and each time she sees something more in it that she appreciates:

“I love this movie because this depiction stands out. It doesn’t just define my father according to this man who was incarcerated and came out of prison to reconcile a country and unify people behind him. It talks about a boy who was raised on indigenous knowledge systems, who was taught traditional ways that equipped him and gave him the wisdoms that have made him survive the challenges ahead of him.”

As a South African, I’ve been especially interested by the response from others towards the film, especially from those outside of the country who aren’t as close to the story. For now, it’s just been a select few who’ve seen the movie, ahead of its release date at the end of the month and in December and January. With its noteworthy screenings at the White House and next month in the company of the British Royal Family, I asked director Justin Chadwick where else he wants it to go. “To the cinemas all over the world where I hope it will stay for a while,” he replied. “After all, it is an independent movie that needs people seeing it to make sure it doesn’t just go into the cinema on a Friday and come straight off on a Monday.”

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The film’s stars Naomie Harris, gorgeous in Valentino, and Idris Elba, South African actors Tony Kgoroge and Terry Pheto, and Zindzi Mandela.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom has various release dates, beginning on November 29th.

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While the Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom movie had its premiere in Johannesburg on Sunday night, news came from the White House on Monday that US President Barack Obama would host a special screening of the film this coming Thursday.

I’ve often thought about these screenings and what it would be like to grab a box of popcorn and head into the exclusive cinema. Who makes it onto the guest-list? Does the Secret Service watch too? Do Obama and Michelle rate the films with a thumbs up or down, or give them a score out of 5? Trivial questions aside, I did find this little bit of trivia about some of the films screened at the White House theatre by presidents in years gone by. George W Bush and Austin Powers – enough said.

So, this Thursday, as reported by The Associated Press, Obama will screen the film and Mandela’s daughters Zindzi and Zenani Mandela will be there, as will the film’s stars, Idris Elba and Naomie Harris. Then the film will go on to show at the Kennedy Center with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosting the event. The high-profile film screenings don’t end in the US. On December 5th, Her Royal Highness, Queen Elizabeth II, as patron of the Cinema and Television Benevolent Fund, will attend the 2013 Royal Film Performance of the movie.

As for the reaction out of Jozi, where the story is as beloved as the man it’s based upon, that’s been a warm one so far:

Promotion for the film has been a little quiet since the Toronto Film Festival in September, but that should start to change as word of mouth continues to spread about this important chapter in South Africa’s – and the world’s – history.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom opens on November 28th in South Africa, then releases around the rest of the world from January 2014.

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Ever since coming to New York to report on the first ever Mandela Day and the concert that accompanied it at Radio City Music Hall, I’ve been interested in the relationship between this city and my former president, Nelson Mandela. He made an important trip here just after his release in 1990, and his legacy still lives on in various landmarks around New York.

The UN declared 18 July, the birthday of Madiba as we fondly call him, International Mandela Day, and every year, people all over the world are encouraged to dedicate 67 minutes of their time to charity, or an act of goodwill, that is in keeping with the spirit of this great man, reflecting the 67 years he spent in prison.

Without trying to sound righteous, at a time now in the US when race and social justice has been brought to the fore of the American pschye because of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, the lessons from the life of Madiba are even more important than ever. I’d like to see Mandela Day become a strong link between the two countries I love – SA and the USA – through this important occasion.

There are a number of events and activities being planned around the city, and also in Boston, DC, LA and Pittsburg. 18 American cities are getting involved. And it’s not just on Thursday – the events will continue this weekend, so if you need to move it to then, you can. And if you need help on what to do with your 67 minutes – go here and here and even here!

Halala, Madiba

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Les-Mis-Jackman

I had the fantastic opportunity to sit opposite the super-talented Hugh Jackman and ask him a few questions about his role in the film version of Les Miserables, directed by Tom Hooper, who gave us the award-winning The King’s Speech. Hugh is one of my favourite things about the musical-turned-movie. He is full of passion, vigour, tenderness, and just a thrill to watch onscreen.

But there’s another reason to love the Australian actor. He told me he looked to Nelson Mandela as part of his preparation to play Jean Valjean, one of literature’s archetype characters.

This was before Madiba was hospitalized. No doubt Hugh, like the rest of us, wishes him a speedy recovery.

Les Miserables opens in the US on Christmas Day and in South Africa on January 18.