A Tribute to Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela has died. Most everyone knows he is one of the world’s greatest heroes. But have you ever noticed a glimmer within your being, like a small silver thread, that swells inside of you when you defend truth above all else, when you would die for justice? That thread connects you to me, and us to heroes like Mandela. In his death I feel humanity cry, I feel pulses through that silver web of grief, of promise, of hope. Nelson Mandela has died.

Do you remember rooibos tea from before Mandela’s presidency? If you are American, probably not. That is because South African apartheid had trade sanctions limiting its availability.


With poems, I know how to express my deep empathy with human experience. With history, I am trained to document injustice chronologically. With activism, I’ve mobilized right thinking into right action. But now I am a tea blender. And what, when Nelson Mandela has died, am I to do in a room full of my humble leaves and tears?

Years ago, I designed a tea called Post Apartheid. The base is rooibos (pronounced roy-bos), sourced from the United States’ first importer of this lovely, nutritive herb. I combine the rooibos with oil of bergamot, the Mediterranean citrus so widely associated with the European favorite, earl grey. These two elements represent racial harmony, as the two flavors blend and synthesize to make a beautiful foundation.

Added next is skullcap, a very special herb that grows in many habits and varieties. It is healing after long term trauma to the nervous system, for anxiety, stress, and even grief. In this blend it represents the need for a deep healing across racial divides, healing the long history and unthinkable trauma of white supremacy in South Africa, across the globe, and right here.

Finally, the flowers. Lavender is a sweet, small, innocent flower, just brimming with bees when the time is right. Bachelor’s buttons are a vibrant, ecstatic blue. Lavender in this blend represents innocence, and bachelor’s buttons, pleasure. In my small life, with its great struggles and great joys, I’ve come to believe that innocence is a privilege. I don’t mean innocence as ignorance, or innocence as the opposite of guilty. Etymologically, innocence means “not evil.” It is a privileged person who lives as if hate and violence are only on the scary movies. Lavender is my wish that more people, all people, could live their lives with that kind of innocence.

Rooibos, bergamot, skullcap, lavender, bachelor’s buttons. Post Apartheid tea is my hope for “a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.” I hope that we all put our hearts’ energy into honoring and remembering him. Please drink the tea with gratitude for Mandela, and think of the ways his bravery shaped your life, and the ways that you, too, hold a thread of that bravery within yourself.