YOU pays tribute to South Africa’s greatest son

By Kirstin Buick
06 December 2013

IT WAS the moment we all knew would come – and all prayed would never come. Nelson Mandela, our beloved Tata, our precious Madiba, is gone.

Even though he’d been absent from public life in recent years as the ravages of time stripped him of strength, there was comfort simply knowing he was here – in the country he helped to change so fundamentally, having his woolly blanket tucked around his knees by Graça Machel, the woman who made him so happy in later years; being doted on by his loved ones; fed and cared for by the phalanx of carers who undoubtedly felt privileged to be playing a role in the life of so great a man.

When he finally took his last breath just three weeks before Christmas the world plunged into mourning.

His passing came after he’d spent three months in hospital earlier this year. When he was discharged back then we had even dared to hope Tata was on the road to recovery – or as much on the road as he could be at his age.

And then it happened – the inevitable, the unbearable.

News of his death is carrying across the globe by the hundreds of TV crews and media teams who descended on his homes in Houghton, Joburg, and Qunu in the Eastern Cape.

As one Australian newsman put it, “We’re here because Nelson Mandela is the greatest living icon.”

It’s safe to say everyone of sound mind will remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard Mandela had died. He joined a small group of people – John F Kennedy and Princess Diana among them – whose death is so significant the day is etched in our memories forever.

It is comforting to know Madiba is no longer struggling. The past few years have not been easy as his health and vitality faded and breathing became more and more difficult.

“It’s time to let him go,” Andrew Mlangeni, his old friend and comrade from Robben Island, said as Mandela’s health faltered further. “The family must release him so God may have his own way. We will say thank you, God, you have given us this man, and we will release him too.”

The beautiful words uttered by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu several years ago are worthy of repeating again: “How God must have loved South Africa to have sent us a gift as precious as Nelson Mandela.”

It wasn’t as if we weren’t prepared. Back in January 2011 South Africa held its breath when an ailing Madiba was admitted to Johannesburg’s Milpark Hospital with a chronic lung infection that plagued him until the end.

During those fraught few days the government was criticised for not keeping the world updated on the health of the iconic statesman and promised it would do a better job next time.

But that is now forgotten. The Mandela the world knew and loved had magic – Madiba magic, that special brand that was one-part heart, one-part hope and one-part humour. The mile-wide smile that stretched up to his high cheekbones and crinkled his eyes – that’s the face we’ll remember.

Madiba’s lungs had bothered him for years. Back in 1988, when he was still in jail, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. He spent six weeks in hospital – and to a nation poised on the edge of civil war, the question was: what will happen to SA if he dies, denied his chance to see his people free and the realisation of his lifelong dream of one man, one vote?

Chaos and anarchy would almost certainly have ensued – but Madiba did not die. He lived to walk out of jail, pumping his fist with joy, and went on to see his dreams come true.

He became the president of South Africa and inspired people from all walks of life with his natural warmth and effortless charm.

Everyone wanted to meet him and many did – from world leaders to the Spice Girls, Princess Diana to Barack Obama. Naomi Campbell called him her grandfather.

But he was our Tata – the man who did more for this country than we once dared to hope possible. He lived a long, meaningful life and we will love, honour and cherish him forever.

Hamba kahle, Madiba. May you rest in peace.

- Nicola Whitfield

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