We owe the Mandelas this much?.?.?.

2010-02-13 16:26

AS television footage of Nelson and Winnie Mandela walking

hand in hand was broadcast across the world, something shifted.

No, apartheid did

not end for a few more years and we will continue to live with its consequences

materially and psychologically for at least another generation. It will

obviously continue to haunt us.

Yet even with this

recognition, it is important to remember what that moment meant for our country

and the world.

It is also

important to remember that, imperfect though our country currently is, it is a

world apart from the one in which many of us grew up in.

On Thursday a

friend sent around an email with the iconic picture of Mam’ uWinnie rocking an

Afro and Tat’ uNelson with grey, close-cropped hair.

Above the

photograph is former President Mandela’s famous quote about fighting against

both black and white domination and being prepared to pay with one’s life.

I have never fully

understood the part about black domination in this quotation.

Below the

photograph is a paragraph that ends: “What were you doing then? What are you

doing now to further Mandela’s ideals?”

I arrived in Cape

Town for the first time on the day it was taken. Having turned 17 years old a

few weeks previously, I felt like an adult as I readied myself to register at a

university far away from home.

Like many

post-matrics, I imagined myself going into a sophisticated life at the

University of Cape Town.

There was no doubt,

though, that what was unfolding around me was more important than just the

personal journey of one young woman. So much more than a rite of passage. This

was the beginning of an unclear but hopeful age.

When I was growing

up, comrades made the saying “freedom in our lifetime” commonplace. Everybody

heard it so many times that we ended up believing it.

Yet it felt new in

that moment when the Mandelas walked hand in hand and we watched, scrutinising

both their faces – hers familiar and beloved, his banned for so many years that

he had become an ever-present mythical figure.

Once, en route to

school, we chanced upon a newspaper which had published a photograph of him.

This newspaper

issue was quickly banned, I think, but we circulated that photograph at the

school for months to come, scrutinising it as if to convince ourselves that a

nation was right about his existence.

Several years later

the iconic photograph of his walk to freedom also made us feel closer to


His release meant

that the comrades who had promised freedom in our lifetime had made it happen.

That victory might have been “certain”, but it was still a glorious


Regardless of all

the talk of negotiated settlements and global political turning tides helping

South Africa attain freedom, the basic fact was that the comrades had brought

the most vicious regime of the 20th century to its feet.

In that moment the

Mandelas’ collective work and sacrifices joined those of other ordinary ­people

to make the impossible real.

So even if the

second question on the circulated photograph is hard to answer, we have a legacy

of ­human courage and a responsibility to further the ideals of freedom that

both the Mandelas symbolised as we grew up.

In order to do so

we need not ­replace “terrorists” with “harmless old man” and “disowned ageless



need to bow down to the ­beautiful, courageous human beings in that

photograph and take up the baton while honouring what they and their comrades made


)? Dineo Gqola is a feminist, ­associate professor at Wits and ­author

of What is Slavery to Me?


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