Tea as a political matter 

(Column first published on the Daily Dispatch 28 April 2015)  

Anyone who has a fresh lived experience of freedom has an energising spark of life about them. I saw this a few days ago in a young man who showed me his gunshot wounds as though they were badges of honour. For him, freedom was that he walked out of hospital alive even though he still walkson crutches.


Has our freedom gone stale after 21 years? Perhaps we need to remember.



Saleem Mawzer has recently retold a story of the first moments of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in 1990. Mawzer has reportedly said that before Mandela made his first public address after his release, they took him on a detour to Mawzer’s house for security reasons. It was a last minute decision. The house was located in Rondebosch East. The first thing Mandela apparently requested in that house as a free man, before he made his historic public address, was a cup of tea. The family is reported to have preserved that teacup so that no one has drunk from it since Mandela.


The nation would drink its first cup of freedom the moment it caught sight of Mandela on his first public address. The journey though was only beginning.


Mandela’s 27 April 1994 vote is famously captured in an iconic photograph. But, what did Mandela do in April 1995, a year since that historic vote? According to the government website dedicated to the former president, these were his activities this month 20 years ago.

Fires Winnie Mandela from her Cabinet post. She is briefly reinstated and then dismissed

Appoints Archbishop Desmond Tutu as chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Wears jersey of Springbok rugby captain and attends the World Cup Final which South Africa wins

Has tea with widows of politicians (National Party and struggle leaders)


Winnie Mandela had lost all favour with him at this point as it appears on this list. This is while he had tea with those who had denied him freedom. They had not only had him imprisoned but would not have hesitated to have had him conveniently assassinated as it often happened with other freedom fighters. Instead, Mandela walked out of their prisons, became president and gave his former oppressorswives a tea party? This tea party was a revolutionary act. It was an assurance that though they represented those who had oppressed him, he would instead personally extend the freedom he was once denied to those who once denied it tohim.


My friends very generously hosted a special Freedom tea party this weekend in my honour. This tea party took place inthe same Rondebosch East suburb Nelson Mandela had drunk his first cup of tea as a free man. None of us were aware of this story at the time. The tea party was inspired by Freedom Day and an interesting apartheid law I happeneto come across.


The law reads: “Unless they have obtained a special permit to do so, a white person and a non-white person may not under any circumstances drink a cup of tea together in a café. Anyone disobeying this law will be imprisoned, fined, and/or whipped.”  


At first I was humoured by this silly tea breaking law. I then began to think about the many teas I have had with white people without even knowing that I was enjoying the benefits of freedom. The journey to freedom is far from complete but just as the Mawzers who hold Mandela’s cup with reverence, my cross-cultural tea drinking moments will become a toast to and taste of freedom.


4 thoughts on “Tea as a political matter 

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    1. After reading this, I will never take my tea-drinking moments with my non-Black friends for granted again.

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