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Indeed, it was too soon to begin planning any reunions. Mandla was transferred to the DHS detention center in San Pedro, where he spent another four months waiting for immigration officials to process his case. Compared to Wayside, the facility was comfortable at least, with friendlier guards and cosmopolitan inmates. He seemed content with the case’s outcome. “I will take responsibility that I should have been under supervision when I went into this fast,” he told me. “I did do wrong.” He had also learned, he said, that a person “can really fall by letting anger get to him. The next time I get angry, I need to take a deep breath and walk away.”
Lindiwe was less philosophical. She felt betrayed by the legal system, by Gyamfi, even by Mandla. “If it was me, I would have said, ‘Forget the deal, we’re going to trial. Take a stand.’ The system has worn him down. It’s like I really lost my husband July 3.”
Still, she said she planned to join him in South Africa after his return. And even Hugh Masekela said he would welcome Mandla back. “I don’t think that if he was fasting and not feeling good, he had a right to be driving around with my kids and his kids,” Masekela said over his cell phone from a highway north of Johannesburg. “But I don’t wish any harm on him. I hope that he can come home and maybe get some help.”
Mandla came home five years to the day after he left for Los Angeles. His father and siblings met him at Johannesburg International Airport, and he settled back into the old house in Mabopane. For the first few days, he said, he had trouble getting out of bed. “I didn’t realize how tired I was.” Then he started looking for a job.
He found one recently, teaching camera technique at Wits University in Johannesburg. Every morning, he rises at 4 o’clock, meditates, and takes a jog around his neighborhood, on the dirt road bordering rail yards and a shantytown. Then he begins his two-hour commute to the city. He is working on a dozen projects — a documentary on the first president of the African National Congress; another on the history of the South African diamond industry; an upcoming trip to Thailand for a conference on the impact of technology on indigenous peoples. “I’m starting to slowly climb out of a miserable time,” he says, “just slowly climbing out.” But when he comes home in the evening, he is alone.
The legalities of bringing Lindiwe and the kids over turned out to be more complex than Mandla was led to believe; the authorities in L.A., he says, plan to ask their counterparts in South Africa to enforce the terms of the protective order. (The DCFS’s legal counsel, Anne-Lin Yeh, declined to comment.) He has had endless conversations with the child-welfare people back in L.A., to little avail.
Lindiwe, meanwhile, has stopped answering her phone or responding to his e-mails. “It’s been at least three months,” Mandla says. “I don’t know where she is, to tell you the truth. I think she’s upset, and just . . . just quiet.”
Lindiwe doesn’t want to talk, period. When contacted, she responds with a terse e-mail saying, “The only purpose this story can serve at this late date is to demonstrate how this system has destroyed yet another ?Black family.”
At night in Mabopane, Mandla lies in his bed and stares at the ceiling. “Lindi and the children come to mind,” he says, “and I wonder, ‘When is this saga going to end?’ ” He tries to remain optimistic. “It will come to an end, I’m pretty positive. Right now, I’m focusing on work and getting back on my feet. We were uncomfortable for a while. When they come home, I want them to be comfortable.”