Dumi's Digest: Think back to 1990 – go and vote

2013-12-18 10:00

Back in 1990, I was a teenage boy growing up in Matsulu, a township in the then Eastern Transvaal, now Mpumalanga.

I was young, wet behind the ears and a little naughty – just like any teenage boy.

It was the February of that year when announcements were made that Matsulu will host Nelson Mandela as part of the great man’s tour of the country to say “thank you” to the people.

Parents were warned to lock up their children and not allow them to leave the house. There were rumours that the local stadium would be bombed and everyone in it killed by amabhunu (a reference to the army and police), who were unhappy with Mandela’s release.

For days leading up to the event, there was a heavy presence of soldiers in Casspirs and police officers in their “mellow yellows” roaming the streets of that small and relatively calm township.

Many parents heeded the call and warned their kids not attend the gathering. Those who were at work on the day asked other relatives to look after their children.

I was one of those who was warned to stay indoors and not set foot near the stadium, which is only 200m away from my parents’ home.

I thought my mum was unfair to deny me the right to see this man who had spent 27 years in jail because he was fighting for South Africans to have equal rights.

After all, the pictures we had seen of Mandela – prior to his release – were those that appeared on T-shirts the ANC handed out.

That picture was somewhat different to the man we got to see on his release.

Myself and a group of friends refused to be enslaved by our parents on this day, so we escaped to the stadium and joined the thousands of people who had gathered to see Mandela.

We joined in singing struggle songs while we waited for Mandela to arrive. And even though he didn’t arrive at the scheduled time, we were not prepared to move an inch in the packed stadium.

We braved the scorching heat and were determined not to move until Mandela arrived. And when he finally arrived, he made a grand entrance.

He was flown in on a helicopter and as it hovered above the stadium to find a landing spot, Mandela took his handkerchief and waved to the admiring crowd.

Once on the ground, he walked around the stadium, and waved and raised his fist to the jubilant crowd.

Speaker after speaker addressed the crowd as we waited for Mandela to take his place. Once on the podium, he mesmerised the crowd, thanking the people for the role they played in ensuring his release from prison.

Now Matsulu is generally a hot place – sandwiched between the Crocodile River and the Kruger National Park – and on this august day, it was extremely hot.

It was obvious Mandela was feeling the heat, but he would not have an umbrella placed above him by one of his aides.

“Andidingi mthunzi wakho. Nina ningumthunzi wam. (I don’t need your shade. You [the people] are my shelter),” Mandela said in isiXhosa.

I saw the determination we had back in 1990 again this week, as thousands of people were not deterred by the wet weather on Tuesday to attend Mandela’s memorial service at FNB Stadium.

And again, the same determination was there from Wednesday until Friday, when thousands of people queued in long lines to see Mandela’s body lying in state at the Union Buildings.

Such determination from the people is one of the things Mandela left for us. Mandela was determined to see his vision of a united South Africa, and it happened.

And for every South African who is determined to see the country work for the better, we should all exercise our rights, as fought for by the likes of Mandela.

We can do this by voting in next year’s general election to make sure our votes count as we celebrate 20 years of freedom.

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