Sometimes things happen. Things which spur one into action. And today, I am back, prodding the old blog back to life, because it is time. And because last night, an old man, a truly wonderful old man of 95, way down at the bottom of Africa, finally breathed his last breath. One man, whose influence on millions, or more probably, a billion or two lives was so utterly profound.
A man about whom we were never allowed to know anything as we grew up. I was a child of 10 by the time the Rivonia trials ended, and I was 36 when the doors of the jail opened, and Mr Nelson Mandela walked free at last. In between, I grew to adulthood, became a student of history, and discovered that there were 20 years of history which I was not allowed to see. To know about. To read. 20 YEARS? HOW? WHY?
It may seem hard to believe now, but I was 21 when I saw the very first picture of Madiba. 21. He was faceless, because his photo was banned. Along with a whole load of other stuff, which once included the book, Black Beauty, but that is a story for another time.
So, there I was, in London, in the British Library, hunting down all those blank pages in my history text books at university, and I flipped over a page, and there he was. The fact that I copied all those 48 pages and smuggled them back to SA is irrelevant. I read. I finally knew what filled the gaps.
I grew up through the years of protest, when we students thought we could change the world - we tried hard. Through the years of early marriage and parenthood, still longing for the day justice would triumph, and that all people would be equal under the law. Making sure the schools we chose for our little ones were multi-racial, and that our friendships encompassed everyone we met. Our lives were enriched immeasurably by the multicultural mix in which we found ourselves immersed. Living life as we dreamed it could be, but in such a small bubble. The dream was for it to be everywhere, for everyone.
That wait seemed so long to me, but how much longer must it have been for the man sitting out there on Robben Island? How much harder must it have been in the face of all the humiliation, abuse, and pain? How on earth did he have the strength to keep learning, keep teaching, keep that fascinating mind alive and growing? Where did he learn that compassion?
I could, and did, go and just sit and look out at the island sometimes, and just wonder. I sailed past it. I visited it. And then my life went on, but for those in those cells out there, for him, life "going on" was very different.
And how on earth did he keep the bitterness at bay, the hurt from festering into malignancy, the hope from dying? How could he be a father to his children, a husband to his wife?
27 long years.
And then, oh then, the gates swung open one beautiful day in early February, 1990, and everything started changing. I remember the day so well, because, as it happens, my parents were flying off to Switzerland for my sister's wedding, and I dropped them at the airport, and was caught up in the traffic heading into town from the townships. You have never seen anything like it. Well, actually, if you have been to South Africa and seen the taxis, you may know what I am talking about,. Designed to seat maybe 10, in fact seating 25, with even more on top and hanging on to the boot (the trunk) by their finger nails. Pick up trucks overflowing with people waving, singing, chanting, dancing......
1000 upon 1000 of them. And every single one with a smile wide enough to split open faces.
And so I joined in and hooted and waved and smiled and could not quite believe what was happening. Everyone was heading for town, the city centre, the Parade, because Madiba was going to speak from the balcony of the City Hall. I do not recall anyone ever speaking from the balcony of the City Hall, now that I come to think of it. Not that I would have taken note of, anyway.
Hope was born that morning in around 50 million hearts.
And the breath of 4 million was held, as the words of reconciliation came, and the love shone out of the face everyone grew to adore. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. Hope. Love. Humour. Compassion.
Do you remember his amazingly colourful shirts? The twinkle in the eye? The dancing on platforms? The voice of reason?
I was living in the UK when the first election came round. 1994. And onto the train I leapt, and off to London I went. I thought it would take a couple of hours, but you have NO IDEA how long the queues were to vote. They snaked over the centre of London, because every single South African who could be there wanted to be a part of history, and heaven knows there were thousands of us. And I remember how they inched forward, how we were entertained by some South Africans, who kept us doubled up with laughter. And singing. We all learned each other's life stories in those queues, and then I realised that I would have to go because, hello, small children need to be fetched from school. A long train ride away. So I gathered up my belongings, and stepped out of the queue.
I will never forget what happened next, and if you are South African you will get the picture perfectly....
A marshal, all of 5ft 2" tall, raced up to me. "And where do you think you are going, my child?"(He was all of maybe 50 years old and rotund and black. It is important that you know this.) "I have to go home - I have to catch a train, and the queue is too long, and my baby will be lost without me and I can't vote and ...." I wailed.
"STEP THIS WAY!" he roared, "FOLLOW ME! EXCUSE ME EXCUSE ME WE NEED TO GET THROUGH URGENT OUT OF THE WAY!!" And on it went as we rounded two and a half sides of the enormous block of the Methodist Central Hall. People didn't mind. They cheered us as we ploughed through the crowds. And finally we got to the doors, and he released my hand, dusted himself off, and turned to the marshals there and said "My friend here has to get a train back to her baby and WE CANNOT LET HER GO WITHOUT VOTING, CAN WE".
No. It appeared we could not.
And so I was
dragged ushered up the stairs to a voting table to register, I cast my vote with enormous pride and joy, and only then did my little friend (I am 5ft 6") let me go. He actually called me a taxi, roared instructions to the driver, and gave me a hug, with a beaming smile too.
Africa. Its people. And I am one of them.
And the man who became President, Nelson Mandela, would have been proud.
His destiny was, in the end, to be a Father Of the Nation, for all time. The Man of the Century.
His dream must be kept alive. Do you remember him presenting the Rugby World Cup to his Springbok team, dressed in a Springbok rugby jersey? His legacy has to be love, tolerance, and compassion. The spirit of "We can do" must prevail. He never sought to profit personally from his position. His focus was on ALL the citizens of one of the most beautiful countries of the world. ALL of them. Not the privileged few holding office and their cohorts.
But his days were numbered, just as ours are, and he is now at peace.
May peace flow over the land, may his ethos of life be remembered and practiced, may his dreams be fulfilled.
Madiba, you were loved.