Children’s beloved president

2013-12-08 14:00

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How do our little ones process this profound loss when they have a limited frame of reference?

Among the thousands of photographs of Nelson Mandela that circulated on social networks in the hours after his death, two particularly illustrated his special relationship with children.

In one, Mandela sat with a large book in his hands, his glasses perched on the end of his nose, and read to a gaggle of enthralled children.

The other showed a laughing Mandela playing “hide-and-seek” with a delighted group of children, their small hands reaching out to clutch the world’s most famous and beloved statesman.

While adults mourned, South Africa’s younger citizens were also coming to terms with the loss – in their own unique way of looking at the world.

On Twitter, journalist Tanya shared this anecdote on Friday afternoon: “I told my toddler that Mandela died. He said, ‘We must get him back. I’ll be a fireman and rescue him’. It’s us though who need the rescuing.”

And on Cape Town’s Grand Parade on Friday evening, a boy wearing a superhero outfit – complete with a red cape – gently laid a bouquet of flowers in honour of South Africa’s own superhero.

Other little mourners on the Grand Parade proudly carried small South African flags as they watched a children’s choir sing the national anthem.

Outside Mandela’s Houghton home, little Zac Thal placed his hand squarely over his heart and belted out the anthem just like he’d been taught by his grandmother.

In Vilakazi Street, Soweto, 11-year-old Vhutali Hadzni had come from Phefeni to pay her respects. She hoped some of Madiba’s famous “magic” would rub off on her.

Children pose with posters of his face outside his former home in Vilakazi Street, Soweto. Picture: Denvor de Wee/City Press

“I have heard stories that when somebody dies, his spirit goes to somebody else, so I hope Tata Mandela’s spirit will come and live in me. I want to be just like him, and help poor people and send children to school for free,” she said.

“Tata has taught us to respect and love one another, and that is what I will do for the rest of my life. I am sad that he is gone, but I know I will meet him in heaven some day.”

Outside Mandela’s Houghton home, 12-year-old Lulama Njezula said she didn’t think the former statesman was a human being like “me and you”.

“I think he was sent to us by the gods up above in the sky. No human being has ever done what he did. He is like Jesus Christ. He sacrificed his life for the good of the others. I’m not saying he is God, but all things point to him not being an everyday person.”

Five-year-old Jojo Waksman came with her family from Bedfordview to pay her respects in Houghton. She had big plans for adopting Mandela’s legacy into her life.

“I will become the president and make sure no one goes to bed hungry. I will make sure that all the children are protected from rapists and criminals. I will also make sure that all the children of this country go to school.”

Six-year-old William King from Sandton didn’t believe Mandela’s political career was over.

Those who are where Mandela is right now are very happy, he said, adding that they are probably throwing a huge party to welcome him.

“They will probably also vote to make him their president. And I hope he doesn’t die there again and go to another place. God must just keep him where he is to help them there forever.”

Parents also remembered how Mandela had lit up their children’s lives.

“I remember once on a plane to London, we were sitting right at the front and Mr Mandela was the last to board,” golfer Ernie Els said on the sidelines of the Nedbank Golf Challenge on Friday morning.

“He sat in the front seat and saw me sitting with my daughter. But suddenly he wasn’t interested in seeing me any more; he just wanted to talk to my daughter. He called Samantha over to him. She sat on his lap and he spoke to her as if she was his grandchild.”

Elmien du Plessis started talking to her four-year-old son Georg about Mandela earlier this year when the statesman fell ill.

“Do you know who Mandela is, Georg?” she asked him. “Yes, mum, he is the god of the whole world,” was the boy’s response.

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