Today has been declared a day of reflection and a day of prayer in South Africa, following the death of our greatest hero, Nelson Mandela. Madiba passed away peacefully on Thursday evening. Since the news broke, there have been tributes, messages of support, gratitude and condolences for Madiba and his family. And what amazes me the most is that it hasn’t just been limited to South Africa. This is arguably the biggest story in the world right now with newspapers and TV stations running stories on Mandela, his life and legacy. We’ve also seen places like the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Empire State Building in New York been lit up in the colours of the South African flag, in honour and respect of Nelson Mandela. As I type this, my heart is sore and the lump in my throat is real, but I also celebrate this global icon and the selfless bravery he dedicated his life to.
This is a day of reflection and the one thing that keeps popping up in my head is this ideal of a rainbow nation and national unity. I’m 29 years old and I was very young when the turn of democracy entered South Africa. I didn’t understand what it meant, or how important this moment was in our history, but one year later we celebrated our second national success… The rugby World Cup win. Nelson Mandela put on the number six Springbok jersey, walked onto the rugby field at Ellis Park and handed over the trophy to winning captain, Francois Pienaar. The nation went mad with excitement. Black, white, colored, Indian, it didn’t matter… Everyone was united, happy and celebrating. I remember driving around the streets of Johannesburg and seeing how excited people were. It was a significant moment for us and one that will always been treasured. Our young democracy could’ve turned ugly, but instead a jovial, celebratory and this idea of “South Africa – alive with possibility” was born. We thank Tata for that.
The next moment I recall being significant is the FIFA World Cup. From the moment we found out that it would be held in South Africa, to the weeks and days leading up to this spectacle, I remember how despite many international press outlets saying we weren’t ready, we showed them just how ready we were. The nation’s pride was at an all time high, the country looked amazing with our stadia being ready. The Gautrain began operating and all in all we had a lot to be proud of. Madiba was expected to be at the opening ceremony, but his granddaughter was sadly killed in a car accident the night before kickoff and that meant his family were absent, understandably so. I speak for many when I say this, but a lot of this would not have been possible had it not been for Mandela and his fellow struggle peers. I think while the ceremony went off without a hitch, many of us would’ve spared a thought for Madiba and given thanks to him in our own special way. One month later, the final was set to take place at Soccer City. There was a lot of speculation that Madiba would be at the final, and that he was. He, together with his wife Graça Machel, made his way onto the field.
He smiled, he waved and in his own way he blessed this global audience with his presence. It was the perfect climax to this amazing period. I remember crying like a baby with my friends because this honestly was one of the most magical moments of my life. You might not understand why, but for me, as a South African, this man; the father of our nation, gave us the opportunity to experience moments like this. Again, we thank Tata for this.
The last month in South Africa has been a challenging one. The whole Nkandla issue has left many of us feeling quite negative towards our president. The very bitter and contentious and controversial etolls have also been met with a lot of negative sentiments. The gantries went live this week and a lot of us were feeling angry at the state and Sanral. It united us in a different way, as we stood firm against the etolls and how the process was rolled out. We lost that battle, but we won in unity and a lot of those principals we owe to Tata. I think when our country gets to a point where things are very intense and things don’t look so good, there’s always some turning point that steers us in a unified, positive direction. Things could go so wrong and yet there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. I’m not naive and I know there are issues pertaining to poverty, HIV/ Aids and other social issues and crime is prevalent in our society, but a lot of us are working towards building a better country for all, thanks to the reconciliation principals of our greatest hero, Nelson Mandela. United in life and still uniting in death. Ngiyabonga, Tata.