Past experience once put me in a situation where I found myself having to explain to a particular audience in the aftermath of the death of Mama Albertina Sisulu’s death that ‘memoriam’ was not just in fact, a word, but that it was also fitting to a piece I had written to honour the great wife of the stalwart liberation movement veteran, Walter Sisulu. Having said that, this piece is called In Memoriam for similar reasons, except it is written purposefully to honour the great and incomparable poster boy for the liberation movement, former statesman Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela most commonly referred to by his Xhosa clan name, Madiba, or in more adulation and reverence; Tata, Xhosa for ‘father’.
I have written several blog posts that have seen me quoting the colossal former president of the nation to make a point. What comes to mind quickly is where I said on a particular article; “Never, never, and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another…” were the iconic words in Mandela’s monumental speech upon being inaugurated as South Africa’s first democratically elected president… in an effort to bring across a point. Those were great words from a great man who deserves, if only for a little bit in our busy lives of registering, assessing and paying claims or uploading or following up on claims documents to take a moment to observe the greatness of this great man.
It was around 23:51 on Thursday night when I found out about Ntate Mandela’s passing. My initial assumption upon seeing various BBM contact changing their display/profile pictures to that of the former statesman was that they had once again jumped the gun, assuming him dead fuelled by journalistic sensationalism that saw the same happening when he was admitted to hospital for a lung infection some month ago. It was only when Khaya Dlanga, the ambassador of Coca Cola and prominent social commentator and blogger, tweeted that our (not so beloved) president, Jacob Zuma, was addressing the nation live to announce the death of the former head of state that it started sinking in.
The feeling was surreal and it sent a surge of electricity through my body while simultaneously forming that feeling of having a lump lodged in one’s throat. It simply didn’t make sense. What followed was me sitting in my unlit living room hopping through TV channels to stupidly gauge the world’s reaction to the news while also trying to stay on twitter to sift through new developments surrounding the situation. What I got, and rightfully so, was an outpouring of emotions that I had never experienced in my 27 years of existence pouring down the world over in a deluge that left me shocked and in awe of just what this actually meant. The world had literally stood still as the entire planet took a moment to acknowledge and grieve the loss of a modern day saint who lived the remaining years of his life championing equality, forgiveness, unity and patriotism for the people of this great nation.
Now, I could go on to rattle off facts about this man’s achievements and stewardship that lead a collective effort along with the people of this great land to a position both politically and morally left the entire world in awe of what one man’s vision can do to leave the whole world in awe of what a country on the Southern-most tip of darkest Africa can do with a collective vision geared towards greatness. However, that would be futile since our generation is adept at the use of Google and moreover, I hope all of us have had sense enough to learn about our country’s history which might not be the sparkling or non-violent, but certainly has the most gleaming end result that is envied the world over. So basically, I’ll leave you to do the fact checking and cross referencing for you, the reader, to do at your leisure.
What I want to say is exactly what living in a period that saw me breathing the same air as this man has done for me. With a world history that has seen most post colonies at odds and struggling to keep their heads afloat post liberation and canonization into republics our history is unique. It is unique in that it saw a brief sense of unity characterised by the events of the Anglo-Boer war that resulted in our being a Republic post British colonialism only to be thrust into a political system so expertly engineered toward the justification of segregation and discrimination that wasn’t only based on race, but also extended to sexism and classism thereby leaving a majority disenfranchised. For those that don’t know, that brief line on a job post advertisement that reads “please note that this is an EE position” relates directly to the group that was left out of economic and political prosperity as a direct result of the system known the world over as Apartheid. It basically refers to non-whites (Blacks, Indians and Coloureds) including all women (white females included).
During the landmark trial in the 1960ies aptly called the Rivonia Trial, Nelson Mandela is quoted as saying; ”I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society. And it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die”, and the old an Madiba was not lying since spending 27 odd years in prison for his beliefs (consequently missing out on large period of his youth) can be argued as being akin to dying for these beliefs. The simple fact of time spent behind bars for holding beliefs that opposed the then government wasn’t the only sacrifice leading to an united effort towards building this rainbow nation, not by a long shot. (Again, observe the history texts to familiarise yourself with the negotiations between the former banned political parties and the then ruling National Party government, the adoption of Codessa that directly resulted in the adoption of our much lauded constitution in 1996, the decision, as suggested by the Communist Party member Joe Slovo, to have a round of all inclusive presidential elections and so on and so forth)
During this period of transition spanning 1990 to 1994, the country saw some of the most brutal politically motivated acts of terrorism and violence since the June 16th 1976 uprising that lead to government declared state of emergency. This period saw the bombing of black churches by white right wingers and the killing of white citizens by struggle militants, the killing of particular ethnic groups by others (IFP lead Zulu’s and ANC lead Xhosa’s) egged on as a means of sabotage by ruling government supremacists that were not open to change and a lot of other atrocities in between. With all this happening, this man, this very great man, kept a level head and continued to spearhead the movement towards change in collaboration with then president, Frederick Willem De Klerk, both their efforts resulting in their joint awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996.
It was one particular update from a friend (who is Caucasian) that caught my attention during the outpouring of tributes and comments about the death of Tata. He said on Facebook;” I too was raised to believe that Mandela was a terrorist, until I learnt to think for myself. Decolonise your mind.” It home because we as a people could have easily fallen into the post liberation trap suffered by most African states that resulted in Civil wars, reverse segregation and the expulsion of former oppressors from the newly liberated country and so forth (Zimbabwe, DRC, Rwanda etc) which have only served to leave said countries in a disparaging state of disrepair.
However, in the stewardship of Tata Nelson, we didn’t because he saw just cause and reason in not encouraging reverse discrimination, vengeance and self-righteousness but instead feverously pursued the ideal of the rainbow nation. It is because of the rainbow nation ideal that Tata tirelessly preached and strove for that we managed achievements that only a South African can attest to leaving a sense of national pride and genuine love for everyone around us such as the Franois Pienaar lead Rugby World Cup win in 1995 (insert Madiba Magic here), the Niel Tovey lead Africa Cup of Nations win of 1996 (insert Madiba Magic here), Penny Heyns winning three gold medals at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, US (insert Madiba Magic here), the hosting of the 2010 Fifa Soccer World Cup (again, insert Madiba Magic right here!).
There is absolutely no denying that all of these achievements that have inadvertently placed us among the best nations in the world were as a direct result of this one man’s championing of the rainbow nation ideal without exclusion of anyone. I can’t help but meditate on the words of former president Thabo Mbeki’s words during a memorial address at the Oxford Synagogue on Sunday; he said that it now falls upon us to carry things forth. He posed the invocative question; “What are we doing to live and carry on the legacy that Nelson Mandela left us?”
In summation, I will quote Rob Forbes, a DJ on 5fm when he said on Friday during the aftermath of the news breaking; “Don’t let anyone tell you how to react during this time of bereavement. Whatever you do, just react.” This left me feeling normal and less stupid for actually shedding tears for this great father of our nation because quite frankly, my grief was and still is justified. Let’s celebrate Mandela by continuing on his legacy.
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