Songs of protest become blacks' dances of joy


PRETORIA, South Africa -- Hours before Nelson Mandela took possession of the government and had his air force delight an outdoor throng with a flyover wafting rainbow-hued vapors, Elsie Njokweni was dancing her shoes off in the most fitting of places.

She was a bobbing, crooning blur aboard one of the packed commuter trains from the Soweto ghetto, traditionally a sardine-can affair for the ostracized black underclass of apartheid, but yesterday a vessel of historic exultation.

Numerous trains clacked along the rails to the chant of resistance songs and the foot-stomping dances known as toyi-toyi that South African blacks turned into a political art form in defeating racist oppression.

"I was arrested six years ago for behaving this way," Mrs. Njokweni said, sliding into a toyi-toyi with hip-swaying grace to join her neighbors from Soweto Extension No. 1, outside Johannesburg.

It was soon after dawn when they all crammed and capered onto one of the ceremonial excursion trains that carried scores of thousands of ordinary people to the grand Government Lawn to witness Mr. Mandela's inaugural triumph.

Whatever the exuberance level of the formally choreographed proceedings, most of the watching world missed the full truth of South Africans' joy, not being aboard the toyi-toyi train or trying to keep up with Mrs. Njokweni and three generations of her neighbors.

They were leaping, scuttling and back-sliding into a pounding version of "Hold On, Boys," a work song for barracks laborers near the breaking point, a song intended to snatch courage from intimidation.

"Your gun, Mr. Policeman, only reminds me of our hero, Oliver Tambo," the Sowetans sang and danced.

Their noise graced the passing countryside, stirring white suburbanites to wave "V" signs and fists of triumph along the three-hour ride.

More often, it was blacks looking out suddenly from trackside shanties at the passing ruckus, the train sending off sparks of toyi-toyi that put some to dancing in dusty lanes.

"We resisted apartheid back then with protest songs and dance," said Mrs. Njokweni, thinking back to 1988. "And I got detained." The swaying woman savored the hand-clapping, foot-pounding, lyric-rich music of neighbors deep into a Zulu song composed when Mr. Mandela was only midway through his 27 years of political imprisonment.

"Dear Nelson Mandela," the carload of bobbing Sowetans sang in a natural harmony. "We are struggling nicely: Don't worry."

They were soon dancing into another old song, treating the original vow of its lyric as an accomplished fact: "We have cleansed this land."

Mrs. Njokweni said she was greatly amused that the once threatening boldness of toyi-toyi defiance had evolved, like Mr. Mandela's ascent from his cell, into a soothing outlet of joy in the new South Africa. "I will tell my great-grandchildren this is my favorite day," she said.

Three hours of toyi-toyi on the train was followed by 20 minutes more as the crowd wended its way through the Pretoria station and onto buses where, after a moment, many had to stand to toyi-toyi in the aisles.

Countless a capella chorus lines converged on "the Old Man," as they affectionately call their president.

Once at the lawn rally, the Sowetans joined a vast crowd that seemed finally exhausted from the many days of celebrations for the political victory in which the black majority was allowed to claim its share of power. People mostly lounged on the lawn, picnicking and chatting.

But they revived and rose and cheered at hearing Mr. Mandela's celebration of their "glory and hope and new-born liberty."

And they cut him off with roaring approval as he described the end of apartheid. "Never, never and never again shall it be," his voice boomed.

Soon, the Mandela government graphically demonstrated the peaceful revolution accomplished by the voters and their president. Waves of warplanes suddenly flew over in celebratory formations, harmless toward the former subjects of apartheid, wreathing them in vaporous colors of the new national flag.

Instantly, everyone understood Mr. Mandela's new powers.

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