We will mourn. But then, pick up the baton and finish the long walk to freedom

2013-12-06 01:13

It came almost as the clock struck midnight. A sombre President Jacob Zuma, dressed in a mandarin-collared jacket, made the announcement we have expected all year. “Our beloved father has departed.”

The year 2013 has been book-ended by Nelson Mandela’s slow walk to his final rest.

We had come to the precipice of our worst fear several times this year and drew in our breaths sharply as our old man hung on to a thread of life. Would it be so again? We waited from early evening hearing rumour after rumour.

In January, Madiba took ill with a lung infection that got steadily worse. He died last night at his Houghton home, at 8.50pm, said President Zuma, peacefully and surrounded by his family.

I hope that we will remember in the sad days to come that he lived a long and glorious life ended by old age, if we are to be honest. Ninety-five years and four months, to be precise. What an innings and what a life! I felt happy that it happened at his home and not at the Pretoria hospital which became a shrine when he was admitted there for months earlier this year.

The event we have been planning for a long time felt surreal as President Zuma paid a loving tribute to what he said was our founding father and South Africa’s greatest son. Nelson Mandela, said the fourth democratic president about the first, was the one person who embodied our sense of nationhood.

I’ve thought a lot about this in 2013: if Mandela embodies what we are as a young, fragile and often fractious nation, will we lose even our nascent sense of ourselves when he goes? Now he’s gone and I pray we do not.

President Zuma called Madiba’s passing a “profound and enduring” loss. He paid tribute to the Mandela family, who have reeled all year, and thanked them for the sacrifice of their father and son to the nation.

Flags will fly at half-mast from today, said President Zuma who implored South Africans to conduct our mourning in dignity and framed by the values that Mandela held dear. “We saw in him what we seek in ourselves,” said the president as he ended a short statement to the nation that is likely to be the most important message he delivers in his term.

December 5, he said, is our saddest day. And so it is. We will mourn. But then, pick up the baton and finish the long walk to freedom.

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