Do you believe in destiny?
I was born in 1973 and grew up in a lower middle class family in Krugersdorp, I had what I would think was a average white South African child’s childhood. I never knew anything about any struggle or anything about apartheid; I knew that I went to school with only white children, and that the black children that I was friends with on our smallholding had to go to their own school. This was because of our different languages is what I thought.
Only once I had left matric and been drafted into the forces did I actually start understanding what was going on in our country, and since it was now 1991, I was with a multiracial intake into the forces so still did not understand exactly what all the fuss was about.
As the next few years rolled by and since I was stationed in Johannesburg during the most violent times of our struggle history I soon learned that it was not just fuss but a very important time in our history and for democratic change, I was stationed at a voting station in 1994 to guard against possible bomb threats as this had been what seems to be the final efforts by a right wing militia to derail our democratic elections.
All went well and the dawn of the new South Africa was upon us. I remember the highs of watching people that had been oppressed rejoice in the outcome of the elections and that then it was time to move forward and build the nation going forward.
Since the history was all very gently put in the closet with the TRC and the new found cohesion between people in the country I never learned much more about the struggle or the cruelty that many suffered at the hands of secret police and other forces during the struggle.
I did, like I guess many South Africans go to Robben island for the tour of the prison and to stand in Mandela’s cell, and remember the lump in my throat as I stood there thinking of the President I now knew and could not reconcile the fact that this man spent so many years locked away there, and yet is such a gracious, dignified and humble human being.
I still don’t know where he got such grace from, to bare now hatred toward his jailers.
The point I’m making is that us as whites that lived normal everyday lives removed from all politics and blinded by the regime as to what was going on sometimes just kilometers away from where we were in our warm beds truly did not have a clue as to the suffering caused by our government. I know that sounds impossible but it is the unfortunate tragic truth.
Then with the drive for reconciliation and the TRC, and the past being sort of swept under the carpet most of us still do not realize the extent of the horrors experienced by people during those dark years.
Trying to embrace as much of our history as possible I made it my mission to learn more about the past and to make sure I watch every documentary on TV and every movie that gets released. On the first day of the release of “The Long Walk to Freedom” movie a week to the day of Tata Mandela’s passing I went and watched the first show 11am.
I remember being angry at times with they way blacks were being treated in the movie and tears flowing down my cheeks in several times during the show too.
The biggest lesson I learned in the movie was what a big part Winnie Mandela played and what suffering she went through, till that moment I had only seen Winnie as an instigator of violence and the “Necklace” but watching the moments where she was torn away from her children and detained brought me to tears and made me feel ashamed of being white to be honest.
This new vision of Winnie had me very curious to know more about her, I found her book “491 DAYS” on the web and purchased it immediately, to put this in context I’m kind of a “if it don’t have pics, I don’t read it” person I'm no Shakespeare, but I was determined to learn more about Winnie, let me be the first to say, it is my belief that even though Nelson Mandela was subjected to a long sentence, it is my opinion that Winnie most definitely suffered much worse treatment and suffering at the hands of the regime than Nelson ever did.
I bow to this woman and would kiss her hand at the first chance I get. If you have any doubts buy the book and learn more about her, the book is a collection of her notes from prison, her and Nelson’s letters to one another and some communications between them and lawyers over the years, an eye opener to say the least.
So now back to the title of the story.
On Wednesday the 4th of December I finished reading her book and so on Thursday evening when I received a tweet about a priest having left Madiba’s house, I just knew what was going on, I sent out a message to various friends telling them that he had passed, this was a while before Zuma had come on TV I just knew what had happened.
Then over the next few days I watched the services and many documentary programs on the various channels, many of these teaching me more and more about what the struggle had been about and like. I submerging myself in this had become very emotional and felt that I had to in some way be part of this event.
The lying in state announcement was an interesting opportunity to say goodbye to Madiba. On the first day I watched some of the events on television as I got time and decided I would getup very early on Thursday and then go to the park and ride and go and say my goodbye. At the last minute on Wednesday night I received a meeting schedule for the next morning so now knew I would not get to go to Pretoria on Thursday.
Thursday produced many reports and visuals of long lines and cutoffs for the park and ride and union buildings. It dawned on me that unless I was going to be able to go to the park and ride very early hours of Friday I would likely not get to say goodbye, but having a family and responsibilities that was not going to be possible.
Friday morning I read that people were being turned away at 8am already, this was not good, I was sad and thought that was it for my chances. As the week had moved along I had an increasing feeling I was being drawn to Madiba,
I felt compelled I had to see him. 11am I stopped what I was doing and got dressed, told my family I have to go to the union buildings and that I would see them later. I approached Pretoria from the N1 and about 1 km before the prison the traffic stopped, I was stuck in traffic there for about one hour to get to Struben st.
I turned toward the Union buildings and thought to myself I will see him, I will see him.
I got to the intersection of Edmond and Hamilton and found the road closed off on Edmond toward the union buildings, without a thought I parked my car about 30m before Hamilton on Edmond. I was trembling, I got out and walked up Edmond toward the Union buildings, as I crossed Hamilton there were about 10 traffic officials standing across the road, and a “Permit holders only” sign and tape blocking the road off.
I walked up to the tape and lifted it and walked on, I did not look back or hesitate. No one said a word my breathing was elevated and heart pounding. As I proceeded up Edmond st, I passed several police and other officials, it was as if I was invisible, I got to the top of Edmond and at that point could see thousands of people waiting in a line curving down Government ave but I had not come this far to stop here, there were police guards at the Union Building gates, I proceeded across Government ave and without looking sideways walked up to the gates and gesturing a high5 toward the police officer at the side of the gate and received a high5 back, our hands clapped and I said “afternoon” and continued walking not looking anywhere but forward.
I was now in the grounds, as I moved closer my emotions were stirring in me, the force that was drawing me in was stronger than ever, to the extent that I approached the direct stairs just below the amphitheater, I moved through the public queue to go up the stairs and then two police officers said where are you going I said to see Tata, they paused and one looked at me and said you cant go up here, continue down the road and find the dignitaries queue down there gesturing me toward the end of the public queue.
I smiled and said thank you for doing your duties here we are proud of you and turned and walked on.
I got to the end of the public queue and noticed a adjoining queue just before the stairs, I proceeded into this queue and up the stairs, I moved with the queue and we were told cell phones off and no sun glasses, I turned my phone off and removed my sun glasses.
As I stood there in the queue I remembered seeing Mandla standing beside Madiba on Tv and no one speaking to him, I thought to myself, he must be so lonely standing there I understand it is his duty but still it would not hurt to acknowledge him and speak to him.
I was now preparing some words for Mandla “As a man I offer you my deepest condolences, as a chief I offer you my utmost respect, but, as a citizen of this country I charge you with the duty and legacy of your grandfather, shed the shackles of party colours and worldly wealth, and embrace your destiny, we the people need you, we the people need dignified, honest and sincere leadership.
Draw on your ancestors and stand up for the cause and struggle that the greats placed before us, before it is too late”
I was ready for this now I was going to make sure I was in the right hand line so I could walk up to Mandla deliver my message to him and say good bye to Madiba and move on.
I worked my way to the right hand line, I got to the front of the queue and moved out of the line and …. The enormity of this moment overwhelmed me, I took Mandla’s hand and started “Nkosi Mandla” our eyes locked it was as if I was looking into his grandfathers eyes, they were filled with compassion he said to me “ be strong” the tears streamed down my cheaks I said “I am sorry for your loss, he was a great man” that was all I could get out, he smiled and nodded holding my forearm whilst our hands were locked in a handshake.
I then turned walked to Madiba, I said to him “ Go well, and rest, thank you” He looked peaceful, wearing a signature Madiba shirt. I walked out and was then embraced by a police Chaplin she handed me a tissue and walked with me to the exit all the while whispering words of encouragement into my ear.
I then walked back out to my car and went home. Much of the sadness I felt during the week seemed to be lifted. I don’t know what overcame me to make my way there in such a daring way, but will always cherish the moments there and be grateful for my “cloak of invisibility” during this time.
I pray that our future is as Madiba wanted, because the deep-rooted corruption and attitude of “now I’m getting mine” in the leaders of today has us on a one way road to destruction.
I call on the likes of Mama Winnie and others that have the respect of the masses to shed the colours of party and steer us back to a course of prosperity.
Madiba’s own words
“If the ANC does to you what the Apartheid government did to you, then you must do to the ANC what you did to the Apartheid government”
“I never realised how corrupt my comrades had become”
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