Michael Jackson (MJ), the legend, icon and superstar and, indeed, an African heritage point of light passed on last week and his exit exposed the complexity and meaningless of life in so dramatic a manner that one cannot ignore the lessons from the experience.
In life, MJ was truly a genius and a gifted artist. On 29 August 1958, MJ’s journey began and the world may not remember his birthday but will forever remember the official departure day, 25 June 2009.
Yes, we had 51 opportunities to say to MJ, "Many happy returns" and yet many of us took for granted that the messenger will always be available to deliver the message that we have embraced through purchases of his music.
Is it not ironical that it is only at the time of death that people attempt to pause to reflect on the meaning of one’s life and its impact? As the world reflects as it should on the life of MJ, there is no doubt that a universal verdict will declare that this was a man who dedicated his life to making a difference to the world through pop culture.
When Africa Heritage Society (AHS) www.africaheritage.com joined the movement to identify individuals of African heritage in whose hearts there is a light that shines beyond the confines of family and friends, I took it upon myself to contribute my thoughts on this important subject matter www.mmawere.com .
The universal outpouring of genuine non-racial emotions following the death of MJ tells a story about the 51 years of service to humanity so eloquently that we need to pause and reflect on the purpose of life. Who really was MJ? Was he properly understood? Did the world embrace only his message and not the messenger?
MJ, like any icon, was less understood in life by the people who have in the millions embraced him at death. His journey was and must have been a lonely one.
As people put him on a higher pedestal he ceased to be human and invariably became a prisoner to his work and fans. We all want to be inspired by others but rarely do we take time to reflect on the costs we impose on the people we look up to.
MJ once said: "I am an instrument of nature" and indeed he was. He has left a legacy and future generations will no doubt remember the man and hopefully the things that we did not do to make his life ordinary like we all want to enjoy with no intrusive and malicious interventions.
When he departed, the world froze to attention to express a universal grief and also to reflect on MJ’s truly remarkable journey filled with accomplishments but no doubt empty at the personal level.
However, when we pause to reflect what occupied the mind of MJ at the time of his untimely death we may never know but we may not be wrong to conclude that he was a lonely man whose childhood and life was alienated by fame from him.
From a young age, MJ became our collective property and he lost his freedom so that we could enjoy the message.
It is only when we broaden and deepen our understanding about the meaning of life and our individual and collective obligations to impact the world we live in that we can properly spread the burden to each and every individual in whose hands the future of humanity rests of being the change that we want to see.
Each birthday and the day of death should provide an opportunity to celebrate life and try to capture in life what the people we interact with mean to us and the world we live in.
MJ was forced by financial circumstances to return to the centre stage and almost a million tickets were sold for the 59 shows he was to perform in. He needed the money and if one takes into account the millions who now grieve over his passing on it is not difficult to see the dilemma inherent in MJ’s complicated life.
We wanted more from him and never took time to invest in him in a sustainable way to ensure that the burden of life would never disable or challenge him.
The hours that the media has devoted to him after death and the kind of message coming from the discourse on his life suggests that we need to find a balance in reporting about our icons.
Ultimately, every individual has a point in his/her life. This is not to say that we need to look for angels. If this is the case, then we need to begin a new conversation that seeks to celebrate life and not celebrate someone after death.
If you love someone then you are compelled to know him or her. How much did the world really know about MJ? MJ was black like me and yet his impact through pop culture was universal. One cannot deny that his impact on the world advanced the cause of our heritage. For those who focus on race, they will have discovered that MJ’s impact transcended the confines imposed by race.
He was a perfectionist and he worked hard at his craft. This allowed the world to be his judge and the verdict if there was any doubt is now known but he is no more. Even if the world wished otherwise, there is no mechanism known to mankind of changing the hand of fate. When it is time to go and your departure number is called there is no choice but to go.
What we leave are memories and MJ left many to make it difficult to truly capture his real impact in one hour or even one day of non-stop coverage. He touched so many lives. The real question is whose lives have you touched.
Yesterday, I was a guest speaker at a gathering of Zimbabwean-born professionals who are now resident in South Africa. They like many non-resident Zimbabweans wanted to discuss about the situation at home and see how best they can impact on the situation. My message was simple. I told them that they should seek to invest in the change that they want to see and should focus more on impacting the world they live in and in so doing they can have a bigger impact on others.
Many of us refuse to be the change that we want to see. Instead of impacting on South Africa, it is easy often easy for non-resident Zimbabweans to occupy their minds on things they cannot influence and less on things they can do something about. I told that that we need to reflect on how the colonial model worked and impacted on Africa.
A few settlers initially came to Africa and saw what the millions of native Africans could not see. They saw the vast mineral wealth hidden in the continent’s belly. They built communities in foreign lands and chose to be the change they wanted to see.
The mere fact that native Africans had to fight to regain their civil and economic rights shows that the colonial project had an impact because the settlers unlike non-resident Zimbabweans chose to identify with their adopted home.
Non-resident Zimbabweans are many in South Africa and yet they are not organized to influence the environment they live in because many still consider themselves as transit economic and political tourists and yet their children will grow up in the adopted home with a confused African identity. I told them that it is important that a paradigm shift be invested in so that working together we can be the change that we want to see.
Zimbabwe can be changed if we change the way we look at life. Let us not wait to celebrate the lives of the people who have a positive influence on our lives until they expire.
I do hope that we can learn from the MJ journey that the real measure of one’s impact is the reaction people have when you are no longer there to see. Imagine if people had responded to MJ’s birthday as they have responded to his death.
What impact would this have made on MJ’s journey? He is no longer with us to realize that he did make a difference.
What is left is for us to make our mark and for those who benefit from it to never allow a minute to pass without appreciating the impact.
On 18 July, we are celebrating the life of former President Kenneth Kaunda, Ambassador Andrew Young and many others. On this day, Mandela was born and the world will also pause to reflect on the life of this remarkable man.
For those that see value in celebrating our heritage, please be the change by buying a seat or table at the Gala Dinner to be hosted by the 18 JULY COMMITTEE at the Sandton Convention Centre. For more details, you can visit: http://www.africaheritage.com/calendar.php?id=44 and working together to showcase our points of light we can transform these points into a big point that will allow others to better appreciate our African brand.
If MJ can impact the world so can you.