Mandela Day after Mandela

2014-07-13 15:00

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Next Friday, South Africans will gather at crèches, old age homes, schools, animal shelters and soup kitchens to mark the first Mandela Day after former president Nelson Mandela’s death.

Mandela would have turned 96 on July?18 – and, according to some of his closest associates and relatives, it will be an emotional day.

Zindzi and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela

“It isn’t really one day that we do this work – it’s our lives, those of us who have lived this life. We live to give every day,” said Mandela’s ex-wife and struggle stalwart Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

On Friday, Zindzi Mandela joined her mother as they visited two child-headed homes, bringing food and encouragement to the families in collaboration with the Abraham Kriel Childcare organisation in Soweto.

Zindzi said her father’s death didn’t mean the work should stop.

“He often said that we must not rely on his physical presence, likeness and imagery for us to do his work. For me his message is really profound now because as much as he isn’t with us, through this kind of work he comes alive again.”

On July 18, mother and daughter will visit an old age home.

“Though it is important to take care of the youth, it is equally important to take care of the elderly. My father himself passed on as an elderly man and it’s very important to us to take care of them,” Zindzi said.

Buying birthday gifts for Madiba was tough, Zindzi recalled.

“We would get him a huge collage made up of family pictures which we would gather throughout the year. And he would enjoy looking at that.”

Ndileka Mandela

Mandela’s granddaughter Ndileka says she and other relatives will gather on Friday to share their Madiba memories.

“As a family, we haven’t had a moment to sit down as a collective to reflect on what we went through during his illness and his passing. We had to go through all of this in the public eye.”

She spent a lot of time nursing her grandfather as his health worsened, and is now concentrating on her Thembekile Mandela Foundation, which she started in 2012 but only formally launched earlier this year because she was caring for Mandela.

The foundation is named after her father – Madiba’s son from his first marriage – and focuses on providing infrastructure for schools, education, health and youth development in rural areas.

One of her favourite memories of Mandela is from his 94th birthday, which the family celebrated in Qunu.

“He wasn’t allowed to drink champagne because the bubbles would irritate his throat. But he loved Moët.”

During the birthday toast, Madiba insisted they pour him a glass of bubbly.

“He gulped it quickly but soon after he started coughing and spluttering the champagne out of his mouth. We all started laughing at him.

“Granddad was a person with a sense of humour.”

After the family meeting on Friday, Ndileka will visit a school in Polokwane she’s helping refurbish. “We need to make sure his legacy never dies.”

Zelda la Grange

Friday marked a year since Mandela’s long-time personal assistant Zelda la Grange saw her boss.

On July 18, she’ll be handing out blankets in a freezing Joburg, but her Mandela Day celebrations started early – on Friday her Bikers for Mandela began its annual

cross-country journey and this year they’ll be raising awareness around gender based violence.

Mandela, she said, loved birthdays – he always used to join in when people sang “happy birthday” to him.

“One thing we should remember is his attempts and contribution towards reconciliation, forgiveness, unity and respect,” she said, mounting her motorbike and revving the engine.

Ahmed Kathrada

It’s up to young people to make South Africa the better place Mandela imagined, says struggle stalwart Ahmed Kathrada.

“With freedom comes responsibility and the most important of those is to your country,” Kathrada told pupils at the Nelson Mandela Foundation during a book donation drive on Friday.

“His legacy is very rich and we need to spread it,” he said.

Some time in the 1990s, Kathrada encountered a terminally ill child who wanted to meet Mandela.

“I went to see him and asked if I could bring the child along to see him.

“Typically, he said ‘no’ – Madiba would be the one who would visit the child in hospital in Secunda.”

The child’s parents still remember Mandela’s selflessness years later, Kathrada said.

“There is a lot that South Africans can do to remember the great day.

“If people want to be part of this day, they can get hold of the Mandela Foundation to find out what they can help with.”

George Bizos

Advocate and struggle veteran George Bizos says he’s always celebrated Mandela Day.

“Mandela Day for me didn’t start five years ago [when the initiative was launched]. It started in the late 40s, in 1948, when I first met him.

“He was a senior student and I was a first-year student. He was one of a small number of black students at Wits,” said Bizos (85).

His eyes water and his voice trembles as he remembers his “dear friends”.

He is in his office in downtown Joburg amid images of Mandela alongside pictures of Bizos with his own family.

“I think we will never find another like him.

“Mr Mandela throughout his life, even as a student, hardly ever used the word ‘I’. It was always ‘we’ – ‘This is what we want, this is what we will do,’ he would say. He didn’t want much for himself.”

His favourite Mandela birthday memory is from 1990, just months after the statesman’s release from prison.

There was a party at Mandela’s family home on Vilakazi Street, Soweto.

“It was a small house and we mainly spent time in the garden. We had tea, snacks and sang him happy birthday.”

On Friday, Bizos will visit the Nelson Mandela Foundation and then join members of the Mandela family at their Houghton home.

“They call me uncle, I have to go see them.”

He will donate money to the SA Hellenic Educational and Technical Institute (Saheti), which offers a scholarship and bursary fund to help fund needy pupils with fees. Bizos is delighted that the Mandela Day movement has grown.

“July 18 cannot be just another day. I am pleased that not only South Africans but the world at large will celebrate his birthday.”

Andrew Mlangeni

Fellow Rivonia Trialist and Robben Island inmate Andrew Mlangeni thinks everyone should observe Mandela Day.

“Please do something for your community. Do something for the people of South Africa.

“That is what Madiba would have wanted.”

The 89-year-old hasn’t finalised his own July 18 schedule but points out that the options are endless.

“I mean, go to a hospital and clean the floors. Go to a graveyard and clean graves, scrub school boards, anything.”

Mlangeni spends his time between homes in Joburg and Cape Town, and spoke to City Press from his Kenilworth house in the Mother City.

These days, the former political activist likes to play golf.

He visited one of his favourite courses, Clovelly Country Club near Simon’s Town, on Wednesday.

“Did you know that Clovelly belonged to Raymond Ackerman (the former Pick n Pay chief executive) who opened it to all South Africans, black ones too, at the height of apartheid?” he asked.

“I was on Robben Island at the time.

“These are the kind of sentiments and actions that Madiba stood for, too.”– Additional reporting by Biénne Huisman

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