Miriam Makeba: 9 passports, no pass
Passport number 1
According to Dr Vincenza Di Saia, a physician at the Pineta Grande private clinic near Naples, Italy, Miriam Makeba collapsed as she was leaving a stage where she had been performing in a benefit concert. The concert was held for Roberto Saviano, a writer who had been on the receiving end of numerous death threats after writing about organised crime. The details are unclear. Makeba collapsed in the wings after stumbling off stage, mid-song. She collapsed on stage after singing Pata Pata, her hand clutching her heart clutching home. She was still alive in the ambulance. She was still alive in the hospital. Time of death is listed as midnight. Cause of death: cardiac arrest.
Passport number 2
In a 1988 interview with Roger Steffens, when asked about her calling, the interlocutor (perhaps in playful facetiousness) asks whether she can see into the future.
Miriam Makeba: “I try to see the future. I may be wrong but I try. And for me, the future is, it has to be, that I will return home. My people will be free and we shall live like human beings, like all other people in the world. Because if I ever stop thinking that way, or looking into the future that way, then it would be very detrimental to me. I may just lay down and die.”
In another interview: “I will probably die singing”.
Passport number 3
You’ve heard this one many times before. Zenzile Miriam Makeba was born on the 4th of March 1932 to Christina and Caswell Makeba. A mere 18 days after the birth of her daughter, Miriam, Christina is arrested for illegally selling umqombothi and is sentenced to six months imprisonment. Christina waits out the entirety of the term with her newborn daughter. At the age of 17, Miriam marries into an abusive, violent union that will give her her only child, daughter Sibongile Angela Makeba. She was conceived the first time Miriam lies with her husband; Miriam is in labour for a full week before baby Bongi appears. Her husband, James Kubay, will beat her; when she catches him in bed with her sister, she leaves, never to see him again.
Also at age 17, some bumpy uneven lumps are found in Miriam’s mammary tissue. She’s diagnosed with breast cancer. She opts for treatment from her mother, a sangoma.
James Hall authored her as-told-to autobiography, Makeba: My Story. In a book that is published years later, Sangoma: My Odyssey Into the Spirit World of Africa, he recalls a conversation between the two of them sometime in 1986, when he lived with her for two months in Conakry, Guinea.
“We sat in the rock garden of her small house as I conducted interviews for her as-told-to autobiography, which I was to write … Miriam’s face, capable of such emotion when she sang, became inscrutable and her large brown eyes focused far away. ‘My mother was special. She could see.’
“Something mysterious had come over Miriam, and I proceeded carefully. ‘How?’ ‘She was what we call a sangoma. She had powers. People came to her with problems, and she told them what they were. Then she cured them… She trained to be a healer in Swaziland [Eswatini]. She had no choice but to become a sangoma. The lidlotis – the spirits – wanted her.’”