I sat with Madiba

2013-12-07 00:00

THE photos are fading, the story is old, but I will never forget the experience that happened on Sunday, October 18, 1990.

It was just after Madiba was released from prison and was making his world pilgrimage to countries that stood up against apartheid.

I was part of the anti-apartheid movement in Japan.

There were just two South Africans involved in this movement, myself and Jerry Masila from the ANC. We spoke from slightly different platforms. I mixed politics with education and welfare of women and children.

The ANC announced that Madiba was coming and we were asked to form a committee to welcome him.

The eagerness to get it off the ground was astonishing.

Madiba was to speak was the Ogishima Park, which holds about 10 000 people. I was one of the stewards in charge of what happened around Madiba.

At the first glimpse of Madiba, the people went wild. He was the superstar. He did not come with a tragic story of pity and hatred, but with a positive message to lead his country into the family of democratic countries. The sound of African music and the atmosphere, I am sure, lingered long after people returned to their homes.

Madiba and his party had to travel back to Tokyo. They were booked on the Shinkansen train. I met some of the South Africans who were travelling with Madiba and I joined them at the VIP waiting room at Shin Osaka Station.

When I got into the waiting room, one of the members, who was travelling with Madiba pointed out to Madiba that I was one of the boys from home who helped organise the event.

Madiba was sitting far from the door but he got up and took me by the hand to sit with him. I was humbled.

“Where are you from?” Was his question to me and I told him, “Tongaat.”

He broke into a smile and said, “Tongaat and the people in Tongaat took care of me. I am grateful.”

He asked what I did and I explained that I worked for the betterment of women and children.

“What do you do?” he asked.

“I support the mentally and physically challenged.”

“We have a back-to-school programme for those who gave up education for liberation,” he added.

He held me by the hand all the time as if I were a little boy and spoke in a tone that was soothing.

After about 15 minutes a woman came into the room and some called her over to Madiba. I stood up to direct her to Madiba but he told me to sit, and he stood up, went to the entrance and escorted her by hand to sit with us.

I have been fortunate in my simple life to have met kings, queens, princes, princesses and politicians, but of all of them, Madiba stands out with his humility. When the woman stood up to say her goodbyes, we stood up together and walked her to the door. Madiba turned around and asked me if I was also going to Tokyo with them and I said I was not, but I so much wanted to go. Our talk was not a conversation between a world-famous hero and a volunteer, but just a father-to-son chat.

He used the word ubuntu. Now I wonder how many people who knew Madiba really follow his path of ubuntu. I can see how some people have lost their ubuntu to power.

Maybe I am the lucky one, since the South African political gravy train did not stop to pick me up. Yes, I sat with Madiba. Yes, Madiba held my hand. Yes, I drank orange juice with Madiba in a train station waiting room. Yes, I was humbled by the warmth and reception I received. Yes, the photo of me sitting together with Madiba, hand-in-hand, is fading. But what an experience!

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