Music

"Thula Mama": Vusi Mahlasela on TED.com

South African singer-songwriter Vusi Mahlasela was a crucial artistic voice during the fight against apartheid, and now in the new modern-day nation. Here he dedicates the beautiful song “Thula Mama” to all women — with a special mention for his grandmother, who showed spine-tingling bravery in the face of apartheid-era police oppression. His story, voice and music will leave you speechless. (Recorded June 2007 in Arusha, Tanzania. Duration: 10:18.)

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NEW: Read the transcript of Vusi’s introduction to this song >>

Vusi Mahlasela: “Thula Mama”

I like to dedicate this one to all the women in South Africa. Those women who refused to dwindle in the mist of Apartheid. And of course, I’m dedicating it to also to my grandmother, whom I think that she really played quite a lot of important role, especially for me when was an activist and being harassed by the police.

We’ll recall that in 1976, June 16, the students of South Africa boycotted the language of Afrikaans as a medium of oppressor. As you know, the way sort of like letting hold that we must do everything in Afrikaans- Biology, mathematics, and- and what about our languages? And the students wanted to speak to the government, and police answered with bullets. So every year, June 16, we’ll commemorate all those comrades or students who died.

And I was very young then, I think I was eleven years, and I started asking questions. And that’s when my political education, you know, started. And I joined, later on, the youth organization end of the African National Congress. So, as part of organizing this, and whatever- this commemoration, the police will round us up, as you know, they call us like leaders. And I used to run away from home when I know that maybe the police might be coming, around 9th or 10th of June or so. And my grandmother in one time said “No, look- You are not going to run away, this is your place. You stay here.” And then did the police came. Because they would just arrest us and put us in jail and release us whenever they feel like, after the 20th or so.

So it was on the 10th of June, and they came, and they surrounded the house, and my grandmother switched off all the lights in the house and opened the kitchen door. And she said to them, “Vusi’s here. And you’re not to take him tonight. I’m tired of you having to come here, harassing us, while your children are sleeping peaceful in your homes. He is here, and you’re not going to take him. I’ve got a bowl full of boiling water. The first one who comes in here, gets it.” And they left.