I was asked to do a piece on Madiba for an overseas online mag – it was never posted and probably not sensational enough.
I don’t want these words wasted and I thus gladly post this piece for whoever wishes to read it.
“If there are dreams about a beautiful South Africa, there are also roads that lead to their goal. Two of these roads could be named Goodness and Forgiveness.” – Nelson Mandela
Nineteen years ago, the southern tip of Africa went to the ballot boxes for the first time as absolute equals. For years this country I call home, was governed by a terrible demon that created chaos, hatred and pain with tools of oppression and division. You all know it as Apartheid.
At that time, I was only eight years old. I lived happily on a farm with my Afrikaans parents, blissfully unaware of the pain that so many of my fellow countrymen were experiencing. I grew up sheltered and my parents did a lot to make sure that our innocence was kept. All the grisly details of reality in South Africa were locked out of our house.
I do remember that morning of the elections. There was nervousness in our house – something that did not really make sense. I remember my parents talking about whether they would go vote or not. There was a covered up restlessness in their voices and their actions that further added to my confusion. After breakfast, we were told that we were not allowed to play outside that day. I threw the biggest tantrum that morning… I did not understand!
I understand the nervousness now. It was of two Afrikaans white people scared of the inevitable change that the results of the elections could bring. That fear was justifiable, I guess. For years one race oppressed another – what would happen if the wheel turned? There was much pain and anger in the outside world and usually the combination of pain, anger and fear brings great disaster.
But disaster was kept at bay that day – and the days to follow – by one great leader. Madiba rose that day as a leader and as a saviour. He took charge of our country with great strength and compassion. He had a dream for this country. He wanted to build a nation where brothers and sisters of different backgrounds, race, sex and beliefs could coincide as free men and women in harmony.
His mission of nation building was met with much resistance from black and white South Africans. Many black South Africans were still hurting, whilst many white South Africans were unwilling to accept change and the ruling of a leader they had jailed and deemed terrorist. Dr. Pieter Mulder, leader of the Freedom Front Plus in South Africa, remembers a specific moment where Madiba’s strength in principle really impressed him. At a packed stadium, Madiba interrupted the singing of the national anthem, when 40 000 people refused to sing the Afrikaans part of the anthem. After reprimanding the crowd, the anthem was sung once more – in its entirety.
In time emotions simmered down and things within our country started taking shape.
Day by Day our country’s father worked relentlessly towards the breaking of stereotypes and the rebuilding of a shared vision and dream for all South Africans. I can still remember the very first moment I saw our country in its entirety – the very first moment I saw the country not as black and white, but as a nation. It was the day of the 1995 rugby world cup final between the Springboks and the All Blacks. I remember sitting in front of the television excitedly awaiting the clash of the titans. I remember seeing Madiba walking out onto the field wearing his green and gold jersey. I can literally still see that scene play out in my head – the actual scene and not the one from the movie – and I can still hear my father comment, “Look, he’s wearing a Springbok jersey! Can you believe it? The President is wearing a Springbok jersey! That’s great.”
That day my father realized that this man would not take away the simple things he cherished and loved. That day Madiba brought a nation together through solidarity in sport.
Today our country mourns the loss of its saviour. We mourn the loss of a man that undeniably saved a nation from the brink of civil war. Where in the world has a country undergone such a dramatic political revolution without major blood loss. We mourn a man that buried his own pain in order to teach a nation to once more love and forgive. I visited Robin Island a few years back. This is a journey I believe all South Africans should undertake. There, I saw the cell Madiba had slept in during his imprisonment. For 18 years Madiba slept in a damp concrete cell measuring 8 feet (2.4 m) by 7 feet (2.1 m), on a straw mat. Standing by the bars and staring in, I could only try and imagine the type of human being that could forgive and love after spending 18 years sleeping on that straw mat. It broke my heart.
The news of Madiba’s passing hit hard – although we all knew it was coming… it still feels surreal. There is a sense of bitter silence in the air. There is no mass histeria… just quietness. Here and there I can see some people sharing a newspaper and even there facial expressions seem still. I guess it stems from the internal conflict of emotions – we realize that he could not live forever, but the knowledge of a world without its beloved Madiba seems wrong.
On a personal level, I guess, today I mourn more than the loss of a great leader. I mourn parts of his legacy that we do not uphold. Madiba fought for a country that is one; for a non-racial nation; for unity in diversity; and for a country where “never again one race will oppress another”. This notion prevented the blood shedding and established a smooth transition of power. Today his ANC, the governing party, looks and acts much different.
It is thus important today, for each South African – and in effect every person in the world – to reflect upon Madiba’s legacy and how we could each contribute to uphold such – and immortalise this great leader.
Mandela made mistakes. He was human. But he admitted these mistakes and confessed his human errors. This in essence is a quality lacking in current leaders and part of Mandela’s legacy which should be remembered and sought to instil as part of our value systems.
“I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.” – Nelson Mandela
I end this piece off on a happy note.
I end this piece off with a video of the way in which most South Africans will remember the father of our nation. Madiba loved music and he loved to dance. It feels like every public appearance ended with the iconic Madiba Jive. O, how my mom loved it whenever there were clips or segments that showed him do his jive. He always had this big warm smile on his face as he jived like a champion. At a concert in 1999, the great Johnny Clegg performed a song that he dedicated to Madiba, Asimbonanga . Madiba came on stage mid-song and danced happily around the stage. He had the biggest smile and the warmth just shone brightly through those big brown eyes.
At the end of the song Madiba said : “It is Music and Dancing that makes me at peace with the world and at peace with myself.”
After a long bed rest, I’m so happy that you can finally find peace with world and with yourself once more – I’m sure you’re teaching the angels your jive as we speak. Rest in peace beloved Madiba.