James Buster Douglas would be facing 42 - 1 odds. Mike Tyson was on the top of his game. I knew I'd get the result tomorrow; South Africa wasn't getting the fight and the only question was which round would Tyson starch Douglas in. But that was an ocean away in the United States; we were in Hillbrow, South Africa. Hillbrow, city in the sky - Johannesburg's answer to NCY's Greenwich Village. It was Sunday, 11th February 1990 and an even more seismic event would be taking place about an hour from now; one that would change the trajectory of South Africa forever.
"Come, baby girl," I said to my daughter.
Tahnee came toddling out of the next room, three years old, blonde as the afternoon sun, with that mischievous grin and looking like her mother. She had on her favorite pink dress and matching shoes; it was just the two of us, mom was at granny's. I had on jeans, T shirt and sneakers; summer was winding down but it wasn't cool enough for extra layers yet. I gripped her soft hand firmly but gently and out the apartment we went, I locked the door behind us.
Hitting the street I could sense it already; the electricity in the air was palpable. The sky was blue, dotted with receding clouds and there was an underlying breeze which seemed like the calm before the momentous historical storm to come. We made our way down Joel St. towards Hillbrow central and my friend's hotel lobby, where we could watch the event from Cape Town on their television set, ours was in that Great Electronic Store In The Sky. I wanted to get there early, the streets were already getting crowded. For the first time in my life I looked round and black and white were equal.
In the distance amongst the pedestrians I could see a black woman holding her child's hand coming towards us; her little one was about the same age as Tahnee.
"Where are we going daddy?" Tahnee asked and looked up at me.
"To uncle Andy's hotel."
"To watch a great man walk free."
"Why's he walking free? Was someone holding him?"
"Yes, baby girl, they were holding him."
The black woman was talking to her child intermittently as they got closer to us and I could see the child was a girl and pointing at Tahnee. Tahnee looked up at pointed at the other child too. Because of what was coming, the streets were way more crowded than usual and people bustled past me and the black woman as she got closer. Then we were passing each other and the woman looked up at me and smiled. I smiled back at her.
The children stopped both of us. They stood level and looked at each other, almost as if they were the only children on the planet and the world around them wasn't part of their reality. I was aware of the sound of passing cars; overhead an airplane flew over, but at this moment, in this place these two children were the most important beings in all of creation; not born knowing how to hate and it hadn't been taught to them yet. I looked up and a crowd was gathering to watch. Almost simultaneously Tahnee reached out and touched the black child's face as the child reciprocated.
A man in the crowd said, "I wish the international media could see this."
The black woman looked at him and smiled as I nodded my head. Then she gently pulled her child's hand and continued on her way. I watched them go as the child looked back at us and smiled.
"Come baby girl," I said to Tahnee as we headed towards the intersection near the hill. I could see the streets were filling fast with anticipation and ahead at the intersection I could see that traffic had stopped. There was a crowd gathering and on the road were two police cars stopped, the cops standing next to them. Whatever was happening the police were powerless to do anything about.
Then the ground started to shake; first a low rumbling, but building to a rhythmic crescendo as if a giant was walking the Earth nearby. Whatever was coming was coming up the hill. There was a thick crowd there now and the police were still looking on as spectators. As the rumbling grew Tahnee looked up at me with a question mark on her face. Then I heard the voices. The Voice, as one, hammering out their warrior chant. We reached the intersection and I saw it, and felt it, coming up the hill; a wall of Black Power, hundreds, maybe over a thousand black men rhythmically stomping up the hill as one, chanting their ancestors' warrior cries, no longer servants, but soldiers on the African veldt. This was their country now; after twenty seven years they were there to guide his passage home, even though he would be walking free on the other end of the country. The white policemen looked on and traffic was stopped in its tracks as the endless wall passed, then turning left, down Abel Rd. towards Hillbrow central, taking their thunder there. The ground shook less as the mass got further away, but their power hung in the air; a statement centuries in coming.
Enough, it said.
I looked up, still gripping Tahnee's hand and realized that all of us, every onlooker was letting out a collective breath; we had been frozen in time and now that the power had passed time had started up again. I watched the police get back in their cars and the pedestrians continue onto their destinations. We had all seen something we'd never seen before and would never see again.
Tahnee looked up at me," Why are those men so happy daddy?"
"They're welcoming a great man home, baby."
"Where are we going?"
"To watch him get welcomed home too."
I thought to myself, "I wonder what round Tyson will stop Douglas in."