By Melody Emmett
I had the honour of going on retreat with Mandaza Kandemwa last year.
The retreat was held at the Buddhist retreat centre, Dharmagiri, which is set in a majestically beautiful part of the Southern Drakensberg on the border of Lesotho.
When Dharmagri co-founder, Thanissara Weinberg, met Mandaza at a conference in Botswana, she realised that “he brought knowledge and wisdom that is very, very rare. You only hear somebody like that once or twice and you know you have to follow. I asked: how can we learn from you? And he said, “I go wherever I am needed”.
Mandaza’s work as a peacemaker has taken him as far afield as Russia, Germany, and the US. He doesn’t do any PR; he is led by nature spirits to respond to invitations as they arrive.
He guides retreatants into the mysterious interface between the world of spirit and the world of human experience, in which sleeping and waking visions and dreams are anticipated and interpreted as messages from the spirit world.
I was reminded of a passage from Ben Okri’s, Songs of Enchantment. “We didn’t see the seven mountains ahead of us. We didn’t see how they were always ahead, always calling us, always reminding us that there are more things to be done, more dreams to be realised, joys to be re-discovered, promises made before birth to be fulfilled, beauty to be incarnated, and love to be embodied.”
We were told that every living thing – human, animal, plant – exists between two worlds: the first world is the silent, spiritual world we encounter before birth and the second is the world we live in. In both worlds there are codes to be observed. Our work is to bring the wisdom of the spiritual world of interconnectedness with Mother Earth into our human journey.
Mandaza believes that dislocation from the natural world is central to humankind’s confusion and suffering. “How can a peacemaker be free when Mother Earth is being abused? How can we be free and at peace when the waters of the world are being polluted? The movement of the earth, the movements of the clouds happens within the body of a peacemaker. My body is my connector with everything.”
Speaking about the land debate and all the bitterness and contention surrounding it, Mandaza referred to the statues at the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, where he had recently taken part in a conference. “I was looking at the statues, statues of freedom fighters – men and women. Not a single one of those people died a natural death. They were murdered. The bones and skulls in that museum are those of people who died in conflict –conflict in the takeover of lands everywhere in this world.”
Humanity has misunderstood their place in the order of things, he says. “Mother Earth holds the title deeds.”
Patriarchal oppression and control are responsible for what Mandaza refers to as the ‘gender monster’ – the war between the sexes, which he traces back to the biblical myth of Adam and Eve. “Let us get rid of the taproot that is supporting this big tree,” he says. “It has overgrown and it is still growing.” His message to women is to unite across boundaries.
The younger generation has been wronged, he insists. They are owed an apology by their elders who have handed down a world that is “chaotic, ill and bleeding.”
Born and raised in the Anglican Church, Mandaza wrestled with his calling for fifteen years. When he finally succumbed, he went into the forest to try and make sense of what was happening to him and received an answer from nature: “I Am Who I Am.”
This is what the biblical prophet Moses was told when God spoke to him from the burning bush.
A peacemaker has no permanent home, Mandaza says, and the journey never ends. Like Moses, he leads people towards a vision of a world in which humanity lives in peace. Moses only ever saw the Promised Land from a distance. While Mandaza, like Moses, may never arrive at the destination he envisions, he points the way for us to follow.
“Build relationships with Mother Nature, become an offering yourself. Go and sit by that mountain; she enjoys your company. Sit by the river; she is your teacher”.
“The spirits are saying there is no time for us to talk about the beauty of oneness, to write about the beauty of peace. That time is over. Become the story yourself. Miracles will happen. We live in a world of mysteries.”
A version of this story first appeared in Sunday Times Lifestyle