Photos are all mine. The article was commissioned by SA Tourism.
Beyond South Africa’s compelling splendour as a popular destination for holidaymakers, there is a deeper and more elusive allure, whose qualities may quite possibly be addictive. Today’s visitor was asked if she would return to South Africa after her short visit. She was emphatic; “Yes. This is home.”
I was worried about the weather. Our tourist was the illustrious American actress and Grammy Award nominated singer, Angie Stone. She was travelling with three of her crew members. It was the morning after the songstress had delighted her fans at this year’s Cape Town Jazz Festival.
Had I learnt sooner about Stone’s lucky streak, which she revealed to us once she was relaxed at Warwick Wine Estate in Stellenbosch; I would have known not to worry about the weather.
“I won R120 000 at the casino last night after my performance at the Jazz Festival!” She was boisterous.
“At Gandwest Casino?” I interrogated, wondering whether lady luck and fame were separable.
“I don’t know what it’s called but it’s a beautiful colourful casino.”
I wondered what kind of casinos she had been gambling in if Grandwest was impressive. She proceeded to share stories of her famous wins around the world. The weather would never have been a problem with her kind of luck.
South African Tourism as supporters of the Cape Town Jazz Festival was Angie Stone’s official hosts to two key Cape Town destinations. Stone was about to follow Madiba’s footsteps on Robben Island and taste some of South Africa’s famous wines at Warwick Wine Estate. I became a part of this once in a life time experience, because of the same forces that later pushed the clouds away and caused the sun to brighten our day.
Our ferry to Robben Island was called Thandi. Thandi means beloved. Stone’s successful debut album Black Diamond was released in 1999. The album was named after her daughter, Diamond. She gazed at the often unstable sea waters through the ferry window. Her fans naturally spotted her shine everywhere she went, even inside of Thandi. For us, this day would be our window into Stone’s world.
We disembarked from Thandi and without any time lost, Stone was found studying Robben Island’s story wall. She stood looking at the life sized images as though meeting the former prisoners – beyond the photographs.
Often, her hands touched the images as though past the printed wall paper, they would feel her touch and communicate with her, spirit to spirit. She looked as if they were as alive as the moment they were first photographed.
“I know these faces. These are faces of my uncles, cousins and grandfathers.” Her voice was raspy from being infected by a virus during her flight to South Africa. She started speaking about the ongoing struggles of police brutality against black young men in America. She fears for her 19year old son’s life. “I’m afraid that one day the police will beat him to death.”
The tour had not yet begun and Stone’s heart was already captivated by the political prisoners’ stories and faces. I was already arrested by her experience.
“He looks just like Mohamed Ali!” She was smiling and pointing at an image of a younger Nelson Mandela, even their hairstyles were similar.
After two more step she announced: “Look, that’s my name right there!”
At first we did not quite understand what she meant but finally, we saw the magic word; ‘stone.’ She was referring to the limestone quarry where prisoners such as Nelson Mandela were forced to do fruitless labour. This image triggered a painful memory from her musical journey.
“When I read this, it embodies my struggle in the musical industry as a black female artist. I did not fit the (industry) mould. My hair was too kinky, my lips too full, my skin was too dark. I was boxed in. No one knows how difficult it’s been just to stay afloat.”
Stone felt destined to visit Robben Island because her name was written on its walls and echoing her own struggle to musical success. Beyond the stone quarry, Mandela became president and a worldwide inspiration. Beyond Stone’s early challenges, she sold millions of albums in America and worldwide.
I did not anticipate that Stone could be affected any further than she already had been, but Nelson Mandela’s former cell at Maximum Prison became the apogee of Stone’s Robben Island experience.
“It will never ever be okay to be locked away, but I know that it will be alright.” Stone commented. She was broken that Mandela had been confined in such a small space.
She was however quick to add: “I found peace in Mandela’s cell.”
She believed that Mandela found peace with God in that cell and with that peace; he was able to lead a nation out of possible civil war and into peace. Stone was having an epiphany. The influence of an artist lies in their ability to effortlessly translate an idea into an experience. Her words led me to wonder whether she may have explained what the Madiba magic was; or the cause of the national euphoria that existed during the years of Mandela’s presidency. Mandela only seems to make sense when we tap into a higher state of being.
Stone was speaking like an oracle. It was as though she had accidentally uncovered our forgotten secret water source.
Stone retraced Madiba’s footsteps until I recognised them again, just as they were about to fade in the dust of derision.
In the Robben Island special visitors’ book, Stone wrote: “I never thought that in a million years that I would walk this journey, that I would witness such a place as this. Thank you God for allowing me to peddle behind the greatest footsteps known to man.”
She was scheduled to travel to Warwick Wine Estate in Stellenbosch on a helicopter ride. Stone smiled and said; “No, I will be travelling on land.”
The rest of her crew however enjoyed the scenic beauty of Cape Town from the sky. It was an exhilarating ride with uninterrupted views of the ocean, mountains, suburbs and vineyard upon vineyard.
It was at this estate that I knew that rest can be festive. Families feasted as they rested on the expansive inviting lawn. Wine lovers cheerfully chatted. Fine wine was plentiful. The atmosphere was like orchestrated tranquillity.
Our Warwick hosts were ready to feed our hungry travellers. We were seated in a sophisticated picnic pod, designed for privacy and relaxation. After the previous night’s performance and an early morning to Robben Island, the crew could not have been more pleased with the current situation. Inside the Gourmet picnic baskets, were cheeses, cold meats, breads, grapes and jams all made from the highest quality ingredients.
Stone was at rest and full of stories. The taste of the picnic jams transported her into joyful memories in her grandmother’s kitchen. Stone had missed the wine lands safari but her crew had returned with grapes as evidence of their ride.
After a day of touring with Angie Stone, I have discovered a long lost daughter of the soil whose appreciation for our people and country was elevating and exceptionally revelatory.