‘Madiba was my life …’

2013-12-14 00:00

“FOR three years, Tata Madiba was my life. If I can, I would like to drive him to the grave.”

Corporal Thando Mangxangaza (30) was speaking yesterday in the hearse that he has driven to the Union Buildings and back each day of the lying-in-state.

He has already started to wonder how he will go on with his job without the man who has been like a grandfather to him.

There has only been time for tears behind the scenes, because he has been in the world’s eye behind the wheel of the hearse on its slow progress through Pretoria’s streets.

Mangxangaza, who was born in Kokstad, is an operational medical orderly who has been part of Madiba’s round-the-clock care team.

He had to watch as the old statesman slowly lost his grip on life. But it was the best three years of his life, which he would not exchange for anything.

“Tata preferred older medical personnel and always called me ‘young man’. He never used my name. He called me ‘Tokyo’. He called another medic ‘Billy’. It seems we reminded him of former times,” he said.

“When I found out three years ago that I was going to join the team looking after him, I got tears in my eyes. I didn’t believe that I, a kid from Kokstad, would get such a privilege.”

As a member of the “Charlie team”, he was present with the doctors and nurses when Mandela died last Thursday evening.

“When I drove him to 1 Military Hospital, the whole freeway was empty and I started to really realise he had left us.”

The responsibilities of this week have been sombre. “The night before I drove him to the Union Buildings for the first time, I couldn’t sleep, because I had the hearse key in my pocket. I was so scared I would oversleep and then Tata would be late.”

In the hearse, Mandela’s grandson, Mandla, sat in the passenger seat, speaking quietly to his grandfather.

“Then I also spoke to Tata in my mind.”

He said he and the other carers always spoke to Madiba, right to the end.

“When Chief Mandla and I were driving him to Pretoria the other night, the air-conditioning was on and I thought he would get cold and ask for a blanket to cover his knees.

“And then I realised he would never ask for a blanket again.”

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