“Bring back Nelson Mandela, Bring him back home to Soweto, I want to see him walking down the streets of South Africa…”
As a young girl watching Sarafina for the first time, I thought that white people were the devils children, and Mandela was Jesus.
I sobbed as the family gathered around a relative’s living room watching a VHS copy of the movie that ran on Broadway in 1988.
That was our baptism into the realities of South Africa’s apartheid regime.
I wanted to be Sarafina, most girls my age did, and I remember wondering if I could convince my parents to change my name to Sarafina. She was bold, she was beautiful, she was loved, and in many ways brought to our little hearts the wretchedness that was South Africa’s black , white and colored’s policy.
And then Mandela became my addiction, I wanted to know everything about him. Lucky for me, my father collected books, magazines and newspapers. An avid historian, I remember the countless times he told me stories about Mandela and his role in the struggle for South Africa’s freedom. In retrospect that shaped my desire to do law, and perhaps be an activist, because that was the stuff that activists are made of.
For a young girl my age, who was a good student, always among the top 3, always a school prefect, I began to wonder what Mandela was like as a child, was he naughty and stubborn, or calm and proper, like I was?
I paid attention in my GHC class and I remember “Umkhonto we sizwe” and when mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment. I remember listening to Miriam Makeba
I found out about his hard to pronounce “Rohlihlalha’ name. I always thought Winnie was his first (and last) wife, until my dad told me about Evelyn Ntoko, she was a nurse who married Mandela but got divorced for a number of reasons, among them was that she was Jehova’s Witness.
I was in awe of Winnie Madikizela, the viciously courageous woman. I had mixed feelings about her, some of which touched on a bit of envy. In my curiosity I also got introduced to the voice of Miriam makeba, of the ‘Pata Pata’ fame and fondly then known as ‘Mama Africa’ she easily became one of my unforgettable heroes.
Years later when I first went to South Africa, as we drove through the streets, it felt like a trip back into history. My host made sure I did that famous Soweto tour, where I also visited the apartheid Museum, I cried as we were guided through Mandela’s old home each room reminding me of the stories that I had heard about Madiba, and I was recreating scenes in my mind, my heart ached.
My curiosity about the drive behind his passion quickened and continues to puzzle me, I wondered how a man can give up the prime years of his youth, but for a country and its people, imprisoned on an island for 28 years. And still pressed on for freedom.
The lessons I learned about passion, brevity and a will to do the right thing still ring true until today for me.
Tata, Africa has not seen another like you, but we pray and hope that another legend (s) has been born, and will attempt to fill the rather humongous shoes you wear today.
You are Africa’s joy and pride, and inside my heart, the little girl in me swells with pride as the world celebrates your 95th Birthday.
I love you, even though you will never really know.