When I was young I knew nothing about him or the treason trial that sentenced him to Robben Island, it was only many years later when I started to ask questions that I discovered a bit more about him, and the system that sent him there. I recall some of my African co-workers would speak in hushed tones about him, probably afraid that the wrong person would hear and report them to the police. The National Party government however was hell bent on never acknowledging the part he could play in righting the many wrongs in the country. Had he been released so much earlier how much death and anarchy would have been avoided as South Africa slid ever closer to the precipice?
This morning I awoke to hear that Nelson Mandela had passed on. It was a shock because it was something that everybody in South Africa expected would happen, but hoped that it would not. There has always been a niggling fear of anarchy at the news of his death, and only time will tell whether that happens or not.
I was living in Hillbrow on the day he was released and went to the local cafe up the road, and on my way I encountered a young black man who was beaming from ear to ear. He said something to the effect that Nelson was now free and he was very happy. I shook his hand and at that moment it struck me what an effect Nelson Mandela had on the many people out there who were waiting for this moment. The parties and celebration carried on for quite some time, and it was not only confined to the African portion of the population. Many white South Africans were sick and tired of the absolute stupidity that was grand apartheid and its effects on lives in the country. Of course watching the broadcast on TV was probably one of the most boring bits of TV ever produced because everybody was late, and poor Clarence Keyter had to do his best to keep us all from falling asleep while we waited.
I was never fortunate to meet Madiba in person, but I do have a two recollections of incidents surrounding him. One of my work colleagues, a staunch Afrikaner, was helping us to install cables in Rosebank Clinic. I went upstairs to check for a route, and when I got back down found this guy standing beaming from ear to ear. “I met Mandela” he said breathlessly in his heavy accent. Apparently he had been standing at reception when Nelson Mandela walked in; probably on his way to visit somebody. In his typical fashion he had greeted all those around him and shook hands left right and centre. Poor Fanie was caught up in it and before he knew it he was greeting the President of South Africa.
I will also remember the end of the 1995 Rugby World Cup when Mr Mandela came onto the field to meet Francois Pienaar, and that iconic moment when everybody recognised that he was wearing a Springbok jersey. He did more in that single appearance to unify the country than had ever been done before.
Who will ever forget those iconic shirts that he wore, or his famous dance? and the beaming smile that he always had when he met crowds of people? His legacy was that of forgiveness and reconciliation, and when his term as president ended he stepped down; something that is very rare for an African head of state to ever do. This last year he was in hospital for a long time, and rumours spread about his death many months ago. The sad part was the infighting that was going on around him even while he was still hanging in there, but on the evening of 5 December 2013 he officially left us.
He also left behind much uncertainty, and a party that has lost any sense of legitimacy or morality, and a country that is deeply divided on so many levels. He has left behind many who will mourn his loss, and a small portion of the population that will be glad he is gone. Personally I mourn his passing. He was not a saint, neither was he superman, but he had an indomitable spirit about him that could motivate a country and bring tears of joy to those who saw him. The fact remains, he was there when we needed him the most.
Whether we like it or not he was one of the most influential people in South Africa, and he was also one of the most loved. His passing has left South Africa just that much of a poorer place.
Fair weather for your journey Madiba. May you find peace and happiness wherever you are. .
© DRW 2013-2018. Image recreated 15/04/2016