I have been blinking back the tears a lot in the last couple of weeks. Ever since our dear Madiba was admitted to hospital, for a recurring lung infection, in the early morning hours on Sunday, 9 June 2013.
He is an old man now. On the 18th of July, he will be 95 years old. If he lives until that day. Last night the presidency issued a statement to say that his condition is critical. This, from the same source that told us he was doing better and responding well to treatment, a few days earlier.
He has clearly reached the end of the road. His long walk to freedom is a symbol of our democracy. Now that he has reached the end of the road, we don’t want to let him go. But he is an old man, who has lived a rich and full life. It is time to let him go.
But letting go, does not mean to forget. We need to remember the Madiba Magic. We need to celebrate this giant of a man, who has shown us the true meaning of reconciliation and love.
On my recent trip to Peru, I was seated next to one of our guides, Manuel, on the train trip back from Machu Picchu. Talking a bit about South Africa, Manuel asked me what the big deal with Mandela was. Why is he so popular?
For a moment I was speechless. Where to begin? How do you describe to someone the tension, the conflicting views, the fear in the country when it was clear that the Apartheid government was crumbling? How do you describe to someone the feeling of being cheated on and lied to by your own government; when you realised that the organisation you were led to believe was Communist, was in fact only fighting for their right to freedom?
As an Afrikaans speaking girl, I was surrounded by people who predicted a civil war. For so many years, we were being fed misinformation and our fears stoked by our own government. We were being warned about ‘die swart gevaar‘ (the black threat). So, even though we voted ‘YES’ for transformation in the 1992 referendum, for the end of Apartheid, we were scared. There was so much hatred and we feared for our future.
Until the great man, that is Nelson Mandela, came along. With his words of reconciliation he soothed a nation’s fears. He showed resilience and the true spirit of forgiveness. He reached out to the nation. Our first democratic elections in 1994 saw black, white and every other colour in between, standing patiently in queues for hours, to make our mark. Almost unprecedented in Africa.
In 1995, South Africa hosted the Rugby World Cup. For many years, rugby was seen as the sport of the oppressor. The game white boys played, while black kids played soccer. And all of the sudden the whole country was behind our Bokke. A primarily black newspaper dubbed the Springboks the Amabokoboko. Everyone sang Shosholoza and supported our team.
Despite being the underdogs, South Africa progressed to the finals and on 24 June 1995, we faced off against New Zealand (the mighty All Blacks), in the final. The team, led by Francois Pienaar, sang the new national anthem, which is a mix of the old anthem and a freedom song ‘Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrica’, in front of a packed crowd of mainly white South Africans.
And then Nelson Mandela walked onto the field, dressed in the green and gold South African rugby shirt, with the number 6 on his back, the number of the South African team captain and shook hands with the team. The crowd erupted with cheers. It was a tough game, which was only decided in the final minutes, when the flyhalf, Joel Stransky kicked the drop goal that saw us winning the RWC of 1995. When Mandela handed over the cup to Francois Pienaar, still dressed in his Springbok captain jersey, there was not a dry eye in the crowd. In fact, I don’t think there was a dry eye in the country.
The Rainbow Nation was born. This man, who was locked in a cell for 27 years, and could have emerged to take revenge, managed to unite a nation, and with this gesture, climbed into the hearts of South Africans of all colours.
We love you Tata Madiba. Our hearts will ache when you leave us and we will shed many tears, but we will never forget you. Thank you for everything you did for this country and for this nation.