Ex-prisoner regrets not fulfilling promise to Mandela

2013-12-07 22:15

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While he accepts that Nelson Mandela has “finally rested after battling long illness”, Andrew Babeile is disappointed that the former statesman has departed before Babeile could deliver on a promise he had made to him.

Babeile, who had the privilege of having Mandela visit him in prison more than 10 years ago, said he had promised the global icon he was going to get a degree in law or politics.

Mandela’s attention was grabbed by media reports of a young schoolboy who was sentenced to five years imprisonment after he had stabbed a fellow learner in an apparently racially motivated school brawl.

At the age of 16, Babeile led a group of students from Huhudi township to Vryburg Hoërskool in North West, where they forced their way in and demanded that the Afrikaans school admit them, black students.

They were admitted after intervention by government, but Babeile said they never enjoyed schooling amid constant racial slurs and attacks.

Few years later, he was sentenced to five years imprisonment for stabbing a fellow learner with a pair of scissors after he was involved in what he described as a “racial attack” by his white learners.

Babeile said Mandela told him an interview Babeile had done with Larry King on CNN grabbed the former president’s attention.

“I was shocked and it was hard to believe when I was informed that Mandela, who was in hospital for cancer, will soon visit me in prison. The day came and it was the most surreal moment of my life,” Babeile said.

“There I was face to face with Mandela, who greeted me and called me, ‘Babeile, my hero’. I did not become a hero by accidentally stabbing my schoolmate, but by leading others in seeking education where doors have been shut down for us based on our skin colour. He was not happy that after fighting so much for black learners to be admitted at a formerly Afrikaans school I was now in prison serving time when I should be studying. He also encouraged me to learn more and seek mentoring on ANC policies because he was seeing a leader in me.”

Babeile said Mandela said to him: “Education is the only weapon that you can use to emerge as a leader in our country.”

On the spot Mandela committed R20 000 towards Babeile’s studies and more money apparently came in from other politicians for the same cause.

Babeile was freed on parole after 18 months in prison to go back more than a year later after he was convicted for groping a white woman and assaulting her husband in a supermarket in what he dismissed as a “racially motivated plot to send me back to prison”.

He was later sentenced to four years’ imprisonment and served 25 months before he was released.

“I have spent so much time in prison and been through a lot in life as a victim of racism and a biased judiciary system. It remains my obligation, however, to deliver on the promise I made to Tata Mandela to study,” he said.

“My wish was to one day stand before him and present him with a law or politics degree certificate. I am disappointed that he had gone too soon before I could accomplish all that, but I can’t be selfish, considering how he had suffered in sickness. He is having his final rest and it is now up to me to make him proud after his death,” Babeile said.

“I was highly inspired by Madiba, so much that while living in poverty myself I founded the Andrew Babeile Foundation, which is focused on the youth and general social issues, and I have been enjoying great support from the Mandela Foundation, which is also mentoring me. This is the Madiba legacy I will carry on and live for my people, be there for them, despite all challenges.”

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