With millions of people around the world I watched Nelson (Madiba) Mandela’s funeral on 15th December 2013. Madiba has finally retired from retirement.
I still have his two-part autobiography on my bookshelf which I bought YEARS ago and still haven’t read! I’m ashamed of myself at that fact and of course have been prompted to read it in-light of what happened on 5th December 2013. I won’t finish the book before I watch the film when it’s officially released in the UK; but I’ll still read it as it will be the most accurate version of his life. I’ve had a mixture of feelings over the ’10 days of official mourning’ for Madiba; various channels were showing documentaries about his life, people were reciting snippets of his famous speeches, BBC question time was a special edition live from Johannesburg, at my church the service was dedicated to Madiba with a giant portrait of him on the stage. The world definitely honoured the icon, despite the scandal of the sign language ‘interpreter’ and world leaders taking ‘selfies’ on their mobiles at his memorial service.
I felt inspired when I remembered what his granddaughter Nandi, said at his funeral, ‘he went to school with no shoes on his feet and rose to the highest office in the land’.
I felt inspired because after being deprived 27 years and 6 months of real freedom he wasn’t gripped by the heavy fist of anger.
I felt inspired because while in South Africa’s equivalent to Alcatraz, Madiba continued to learn how to read, write and speak the language of the evil Apartheid regime, Afrikaans, as well as studying their history because he believed ‘If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language that goes to his heart’.
I felt inspired because the 466th prisoner to arrive on Robben Island on the Western Cape in 1964 (466/64 – the most famous prison number in the world) didn’t let the cold prison bars of his cell lock down his faith.
I felt inspired when Madiba came to London in 1993 and stood side-by side with the family of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence killed by white racists; still fighting for justice at the age of 74.
I felt inspired when Madiba came to Brixton, South London in 1996, infamously known as one of London’s ghettos.
I was a child when Madiba was released from prison, just before Valentine’s Day on 11th February 1990, but thinking of the joyful anticipation that preceded the blind date between Madiba and the world, a world that had not seen him in over 27 years, fills me with pride. Pride because a man from a race of people who were regarded as ‘uncivilized’ forced the most powerful countries in the world to check themselves! Dig deep into their souls and decide if they could continue to skip along with Apartheid down the street of barbarism. On release Madiba reminded the people of South Africa, ‘I stand here before you not as a prophet but as a humble servant of you, the people. Your tireless and heroic sacrifices have made it possible for me to be here today. I therefore place the remaining years of my life in your hands’.
I felt sad when I realised that until 1994 black people in South Africa couldn’t even vote; when I was running around freely in my school playground.
I felt sad when it was revealed that despite improvements, there are still vast inequalities between blacks and whites in South Africa regarding education, wealth and land ownership.
I felt angry when the numerous documentaries relived the injustice black South Africans experienced including the Sharpeville massacre in March 1960, where unarmed black South Africans where peacefully protesting. The result = 69 dead, gunned down like dogs in the street. Watching Pik Botha on BBC’s question time didn’t really help either, as he is the former Foreign Minister of the Apartheid government. While in office he spent most of his time defending the Apartheid white supremacy ideology, but eventually saw the light, he got there in the end!…Trying to support the release of Madiba; either way when I utter the word Apartheid, it feels like vinegar on my tongue.
Apartheid is an Afrikaans word meaning ‘the state of being apart’.
In 1976 the United Nations General Assembly declared the actions of Apartheid as a crime against humanity, but apparently no criminal trials have ever taken place, and of course the Apartheid government stayed in power until 1994. When the West waited as long as they could before supporting Madiba, a country (rightly) criticised for its current human rights stance supported Madiba and the ANC ‘financially and morally’ from the beginning; that country was China. Fidel Castro (Cuba) and Muammar al-Gaddafi (Libya) also pledged their support.
After a deep breath I thought, if Nelson Mandela held Pik’s hand while he fought prostate cancer then I should let it go too. It’s more liberating focusing on the triumph of good over evil via the route of forgiveness, than to stay angry. This is not an excuse to forget history or stay silent in the mist of injustice, but an opportunity for me to follow along the path of Madiba’s long walk to freedom. Madiba was not perfect, he was human and made mistakes but they pale in comparison to what he went through and achieved.
I smiled when his ANC comrade Ahmed Kathrada (who also helped Madiba with sections of his autobiography) joked at the funeral that, he got a discount on his prison sentence after serving 26 years compared to Madiba’s 27 years. I feel honoured that I am alive when the greatest freedom fighter of the 20th century walked this earth. Unfortunately the current ANC hasn’t honoured Madiba’s vision, so only time will tell what lies ahead for South Africa, the rainbow nation, a nation where almost a third of citizens live on less than $2 a day. History will judge the current ANC government on what they decide to do with Madiba’s legacy.
2013 is coming to an end and a lot of things have happened this year. When I look back, I’ll always remember it as the year an African warrior finally retired. Rest in peace Madiba, you’ve worked hard, you deserve it!
‘I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.’
Guess who said that little nugget?!
Note: Pik Botha mentioned above – full name Roelof Frederik “Pik” Botha, should not be confused with Pieter Willem “Pik” Botha a.k.a the Big Crocodile (1916-2006). The latter was the president of South Africa during the height of the Apartheid regime. The two are not related, but served in government together. I’ll let you guess why they called him the Big Crocodile…but will give you a hint. In 1997 he was found guilty by South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), for attempting to destroy the anti-apartheid movement during his rule. He didn’t bother to turn up to the hearing where he was handed down a 10,000 rand (around £588) fine and a 12-month suspended jail term. Afterward he did say this, “I have nothing to apologise for. I will never ask for amnesty (from the TRC). Not now, not tomorrow, not after tomorrow.”
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Photo credits – Nelson Mandela Centre of memory