On Thursday evening South Africa and the world lost in Nelson Mandela one of its most influential citizens ever, who taught us about the nobility of forgiveness, despite what he suffered for 27 years to make South Africa and the world a better place for all.
No doubt like many others, I could not help but feel sad about the passing of someone whom I had never met, but who feels like a father, and the sadness is even greater, this being the second father I have lost this year. Reading the outpouring of love for Mr Mandela on TV, on radio, on Twitter, and Facebook, the timelines were dominated by the expression of each one who uses the media. Kfm played tributes and ‘nostalgic’ music, not its normal music mix, like Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Bridge over Troubled Water‘ and Eric Clapton’s ‘Tears in Heaven’, and many more songs that related to the specialness of Madiba.
The world’s leaders expressed their sadness, and President Barack Obama was one of the first to express his condolences in the early hours of yesterday morning. He and his wife Michelle have announced that they will travel to South Africa next week, to pay their respects to the country and the family. Books of condolence have been opened in South African embassies around the world, for South Africans and Madiba admirers to express their feelings. A moving tribute was paid to him by his assistant of many years Zelda la Grange.
Many media interviewees said that the day had been inevitable, but no one was prepared for the final passing. A number of false reports announced Madiba’s passing mid-year, and it is clear that the major international and local TV stations had long before prepared documentaries about the man that had such a hold over the world.
Nelson Mandela was released from Victor Verster (now Drakenstein) prison in 1990, a month after I had moved back home to Cape Town from Pretoria and Johannesburg, and I was one of many millions watching the TV broadcast of the long and slow walk to freedom from the prison. The broadcast by SABC was a lowlight of Mr Mandela’s release, his release having been delayed, and the SABC reporter had nothing more to say while waiting for at least an hour than to comment on a leaking tap! As Madiba’s cavalcade was leaving Paarl, I was one of thousands making our way to the City Hall, to hear Madiba address the nation and the world. We heard his distinctive voice for the first time. It was the start of a new South Africa, of tolerance and respect for each other, most of the time. Not only was Madiba respected for his lack of bitterness, but President FW de Klerk was saluted too for his graciousness in motivating his Cabinet to release Madiba, knowing full well that he and his National Party would eventually lose the ruling power. For their gentlemanliness both leaders jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize.
The ‘new’ South Africa, which celebrates its 20th anniversary next year, opened the doors to tourism and exports, all of which were blocked as the world’s nations boycotted our country as a tourist destination and as a source of fruit, wines and more, to express their objection to the previous distasteful laws of segregation
Two years ago I was lucky to have been invited by the then Cape Town Routes Unlimited to a celebration in honour of Madiba’s birthday at Drakenstein prison, in Mandela House, the house in which Mr Mandela lived to ‘acclimatize’ him to his pending release. The house is a museum in Madiba’s honour, and we saw the microwave which Madiba thought was a TV, not understanding why it stood in the kitchen and not in the lounge. We saw the dining room table at which his release was signed. Madiba’s guards were clearly in awe of him, and shared how caring he was as their ‘prisoner’.
Very recently I was moved by the work in honour of Mr Mandela which landscape artist Strijdom van der Merwe was commissioned to create outside the Stellenbosch Town Hall, it highlighting on one side Madiba’s life before imprisonment in the east side of the country, and on the other side the three ‘homes’ he had in the western Cape area, being Pollsmoor, Robben Island, and Victor Verster (left). Madiba’s famous sentence he spoke on the opening of Parliament, over which he presided for the first time as sole President of our country (‘Never, never, and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another‘!), is cast in concrete in the memorial area.
No doubt the movie ‘Mandela: ‘Long Walk to Freedom‘, which has just been released around the world, will achieve record viewership. Yesterday Ster-Kinekor announced that it would not screen the movie for the day, in honour of Madiba’s passing. We encourage all Madiba-lovers to visit the impressive exhibition of photographs taken of Mr Mandela in Cape Town, available to see in the Civic Centre, which was curated by the City of Cape Town. Now it is really apt and poignant, and the exhibition banners on street poles summarise his role, e.g. ‘FATHER’ says the one outside the Lutheran Church on Strand Street.
The next ten days will be a period of commemoration of Madiba’s life, with the state funeral and burial taking place in his ancestral home Qunu on Sunday 15 December. A celebration of Madiba’s life will be held at the Soweto Stadium on Tuesday 10 December. In addition to the Obamas, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, The Queen of England or her son the Prince of Wales, François Hollande, Bill Gates, Bono, Oprah Winfrey, David Cameron, and Nick Clegg have announced their attendance, as have Prince Albert and Princess Charlène from Monaco. Flags around the country and overseas are flying at half mast. The Empire State Building and the Eiffel Tower have been lit up in the colours of our flag.
Rest in Peace Tata Madiba. Your nation and the world will never forget you.
POSTSCRIPT 8/12: At a first ever Sunday meeting of the City of Cape Town Council, a budget of R72 million was approved unanimously, reports the Mail & Guardian. The budget will fund free transport on the MyCiTi and Golden Arrow buses to funeral and commemorative services for Mr Mandela in the forthcoming week.
POSTSCRIPT 17/12: An image of the late Nelson Mandela was projected onto Table Mountain during the week of national mourning.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
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