The 5th of December 2013 will always be remembered as one of the saddest days in South African history when we lost the father of our nation. When my husband told me early Friday morning, as we were getting ready to go to work, that our beloved Madiba has passed away late Thursday evening, I felt an overwhelming sense of loss. Though I never had the honor of meeting Madiba, his presence has always been as familiar to me as my own shadow.
I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. I felt fear myself more times than I can remember, but I hid it behind a mask of boldness. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.
About five years ago, I decided to read his book, Long Walk to Freedom. Up until that point, I’ve always seen former-president Mandela on t.v., heard him on the radio, or seen articles about him in newspapers and magazines. I knew about him, but I never truly understood what he did for our country, or the hardships he endured and the sacrifices he made. It took me about two weeks to work my way through his 751-pages autobiography…and I was without a doubt a different person by the time I turned the last page. Only then did I truly understand what self-sacrifice, humility, and forgiveness meant, and what a pivotal role this exceptionally noble man played in the history of our country. For every person who has ever propagated peace and freedom, Madiba was the one who dedicated his life to ensure peace and freedom for the people of our country. Not only did he become the leader of our land and united us a nation, he went beyond that and became an ambassador for reconciliation to build a legacy for future generations.
When I walked out of prison, that was my mission, to liberate the oppressed and the oppressor both.
For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
Ask yourself this: would you have the courage to stand in front of thousands and thousands of people in London’s Trafalgar Square and say to them: I love each and everyone of you! I don’t think I’d ever be able to muster up enough courage to do such a thing, but Madiba did it without hesitation. Loving people came naturally to him. And with people I mean absolutely everyone. After reading his book he was no longer someone I heard about; he became someone I felt I knew. To me, he became the face of forgiveness. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fathom how great a person has to be to be able to forgive years of atrocities.
I always knew that deep down in every human heart, there was mercy and generosity. No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.
Yesterday, my husband and I went to watch the big-screen adaptation of Long Walk to Freedom. By the time the credits rolled, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house, and we, together with our fellow movie-goers of every walk of life, broke out into an impromptu round of applause. If you haven’t read the book, at least go see the movie. I can’t imagine this real-life hero’s story not touching a heart. However, I did feel the movie-version of the book was very much romanticized, whereas the book gives you the cold, hard facts, but with Madiba’s voice of compassion and understanding. Of course, the movie won’t be able to capture that – not even in the running time of two and a half hours – and therefore I’d recommend reading the book instead. But, what I loved about the movie and which I didn’t get from the book, was Winnie’s (Madiba’s second wife) suffering, and how that lead to her becoming a person who is consumed by hatred and resentment, and how that led to the deterioration of her marriage to our icon.
I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.
News of Nelson Mandela’s passing broke my heart. Yes, he was ninety-five-years old and yes, it was his time to go. But that doesn’t make it any less heart-breaking. I am consoled by the fact that he will go down in world history as one of the most loved and revered messiah-like legends of all time. He was loved by all, and he will never be forgotten. As the world mourns his passing along with us South Africans, we stand united as a symbol to his vision of freedom and peace. I am proud to say that I’m part of the generation that has lived in the time when this phenomenal man made history with one of the most extraordinary acts of forgiveness. Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela will forever live on in our hearts and our memories as the epitome of strength, wisdom, generosity, and resilience; the leader who led by example.
We love you, Madiba!
*Note: Quotes taken from the autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, by Nelson Mandela.