Have you seen him?

Johnny Clegg probably has the most well-known song asking if you’ve seen him. It goes under the title Asimbonanga (lyrics) and was initially penned during Nelson Mandela’s time in prison. Again it came to prominence at the time of Mandela’s death – Have you seen him? You can hear the different versions in the link above. A moving piece, as is Johnny Clegg’s The Crossing which considers the (re)meeting on the other side of death. Both songs again were in the limelight when Johnny Clegg himself died on 16 July 2019, aged 66. (youtube videos).

Some time ago I posted a blog entitled Detained – in a different way, asking have you seen him (or her). More recently, being part of the CWGC enquiry into the Inequalities in Commemoration opened new windows on ‘have you seen him?’ Seeing someone is a form of greeting for some cultural groups – “I see your shadow” recognises the multiple dimension of a being or creation. Is this the role that memorials play? Is that why they are so important?

How do we continue to see someone once they’ve gone? What do we remember? Only the good? Only the bad? The complexity of a relationship (and the empire) is captured in Johnny’s High Country. How do we capture the complexities of an individual, a movement, an era?

Indians in Kenya by Sana Aiyar is a reminder of how the visible becomes invisible only to be made visible when it suits a particular purpose. Twenty-five years after South Africa obtained full democracy groups were calling on the spirit of Madiba to dominate relationships again, and on 1 January 2022, President Cyril Ramaphosa was calling on the nation to honour the late ‘Desmond Tutu by taking up his campaign for social justice’. It was the occasion of the archbishop’s farewell before he was aquamated. As with cremation, there is a residue which can be placed in a special spot for commemoration purposes.

Have you seen him? Do we need to see him or her to remember and continue their struggle for making the world a better place? More importantly, how do we ensure we see the whole – good and not so good – that makes us and our world who we are, especially when the visual is no longer visible?

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