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Kate Oakley
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The day Madiba died

11 December 2013, 08:01

We all knew it was coming. Nobody can live forever, even if the whole world wills it. After the sun had set on the 5th day of December, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela passed away. He was known to us as Madiba; this is written for those of you who know the evil from which this Saint delivered us.

Prattling off a list of adjectives trying to describe Madiba's transcendent triumph over characteristically human faults would be a futile exercise; there's not enough ink in the world, nor appropriately weighted explicative to do him justice. Instead, I'd just like to express how the day made me feel.

Not being an outwardly emotional individual when faced with death, I had expected that when the day came, it would be hard, but that my eyes would remain dry in the knowledge that his suffering had come to an end. I'd had plenty time to prepare for it. But receiving the news on the morning after his passing left me feeling hollow and the grief began to percolate through me. For me, the essence of grieving stems from my conscious self trying to reconcile memories filled with joy, passion and pride with the fact that the person responsible for the creation of those memoirs is gone. This is my trigger, and from the moment the radio crackled to life, hissing clips of his historic speeches and extraordinary insights, I knew I was in trouble.

As I lay in bed, listening to the tributes pour in from a plethora of pain-ridden celebrities, the reality of what we had lost became numbingly clear. Remove him from the tapestries of time and everything we cherish about our great country would vanish. I now realize that I owe him not only my freedom, but quite literally my life. Who knows what the casualties of a civil war would have amounted to. If you examine the reform of neighbouring African countries, an argument could be made that we would have faced brutal, chaotic and violent bloodshed. 
An overwhelming sense of gratitude toward a man I had never met consumed me. Combined with songs whose lyrics trampled all over my vulnerable state, the tears came easily. I had not anticipated such a heady paroxysm. A twang of guilt reverberated through me, a consequence of having lived my own life so selfishly compared to him. 

Outside, on the streets of Johannesburg, there was an a air of venerability. It was a day made solely for reparation; Sin was scarce. Drivers stared blankly through their windows, fulminating on the idea of a world without Madiba; hunched postures and downcast eyes belying their attempts to remain upbeat. Never has grief been so tangible across an entire country. His gestures, bound by humility and grace, were so genuine they were definitively beyond reproach. The trust of an entire nation was his reward. It was no surprise then that sadness was permeating through the rural mud huts of the Transkei, as well as the high walls of Sandhurst. 
Referring to Madiba in the past tense doesn't sit right. He may have moved on, but his legacy lives within every South African; his example imprinted on millions around the world. Please forgive my indiscretion then in referring to him in the present. He is a global icon for equality, but he is our Tata. To call him our own is a privilege of the highest order, and something that evokes an immeasurable sense of pride. If I could reach beyond the grave, I'd tell him that we are all so incredibly proud to be South African.

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