Thoughts on Madiba’s Death

I wish I could call this a tribute, but I don’t think I have the words to do this great man justice. Instead, I’ll share my thoughts today (random as they may be) and hope they add up to something worth reading.

See I’m South African, born at the tail-end of the Apartheid regime. In fact, the reason why my birthday is on December 28 is that my mom had me born by c-section so my dad could see me before being posted to border patrol.

Those were war years. I wasn’t even two when he was released. Oddly though, I remember seeing on the t.v. as this man left prison. I noted how everyone on t.v. was happy to see him free, but no one in my family was. So I asked what was going on and the answer I got was something like: “My child, it’s the end of our nation.”

Of course, it meant nothing to me then, because I was too small to understand what a country was. But I remembered thinking he had a nice smile, so I noticed when he was on t.v.

Every time he came on, my family (as I now imagine many Afrikaans families did) greeted his words with distrust. See, that war had set white people in general and the Afrikaners in particular on opposite ends of conflict. Madiba and his contemporaries were fighting for freedom. We… I honestly am very careful to say what we fought for. It’s not really discussed.

The sense I have (and I could be wrong) is that the government was fighting for continued suppression, since complete freedom for all races would (and did) mean loss of power. But the white people on the ground level were fighting for survival.

Why this is is another history lesson in itself. But in short, our ancestors had fought for a place in Africa. If we’d failed, we would have been annihilated. In fact, some of us did fail through history, and most of those did die. It was a fact so long-standing that no white person could imagine that the war could end peacefully for us unless we won.

The day Nelson Mandela was released, we’d lost for all intents and purposes.

People expected “The Night of the Long Knives”, like another Kristallnacht. We’d suppressed and the government had institutionalized so many wrongs that almost all white South Africans expected bloody reprisals, and for South Africa to be turned into something similar to the rest of Africa.

What we didn’t hold reckoning with was that Nelson Mandela was a much better man than any of us had thought. Instead of revenge, he preached reunification. Instead of reprisals, he preached unity. And that coming from someone who’d been sent to jail for fighting for something that was, in retrospect, the right thing.

He won our trust, starting with that day he walked out onto the rugby field before the World Cup Finals in 1995, wearing a beloved Springbok jersey.

And in many ways, he’d steered this country free of disaster so that we could recover and move on. “Us” became something inclusive, something the whole country could belong to.

For that, I am immensely thankful.

Madiba, your strength, forgiving nature and love for humanity inspired more than just a nation. It changed the world. Rest now, Tata Madiba. Your life was and will be a standard the rest of us should and will try to emulate. You deserve it more than anyone else I know of.

46 thoughts on “Thoughts on Madiba’s Death

  1. There are only a few greats in the political real world. Mandela was one of them. A true statesman, and I'm glad you've written so well about him here, Misha. Kudos to you, and thank you for giving us an insider's view of a great one's passing and why he is a great one.

  2. Wow, you need to make sure you write these things down. Tell them to your children and grandchildren. You lived history, and unless people like you tell your stories, the feelings and hopes of the people will be forgotten and glossed over in a couple of sentences in an out of date history book.

    Thanks for sharing with us.

  3. You have a unique perspective, so it was a bit of a learning experience just to read a familiar tale with your slant. Thank you for sharing. Understanding the level of discontent makes the ultimate outcome all the more incredible.

  4. This is a very interesting post – we don't hear from the other perspective very often. I can imagine how confusing it would have been to you as a child, but I love that you first noticed him because of his smile.

  5. Hi Misha,

    Was hoping to read a perspective from you on all that has transpired. His legacy must be that the nation will find a newer, stronger unity. The Rainbow Nation reaches out and realises that the ideals of Mr. Mandela saw this world become the Rainbow Planet.

    From mistrust and suspicion, came trust and love. Thank you for such articulate thoughts, Misha.

    In peace and hope,


  6. Thanks for your insights from someone on the inside. I remember the feelings of celebration when Mandela was released, but never before appreciated how these events would look and feel to the white South Africans at that time. It just seemed like the country calmly settled down and got on with its life, with no realization just what a remarkable achievement that really was!

  7. I really appreciate you sharing your view (and personal experience) about this with us. With all the contradictory print over the years, I've never known what really had gone on there. Loved your words, here!

  8. Wow, this was a great take on the whole situation, one that I haven't heard before.

    Thanks for sharing this. I liked the real emotion I got from you. I'm going to spread this around a bit. I have some friends who may find this interesting.

  9. I like the straightforward honest views you shared about your life, and what it was like living in South Africa during the apartheid era. The article is interesting and worth pondering. It is a lovely tribute to Nelson Mandela.

  10. Yeah. To be honest, I'm careful of sharing SA stuff from my point of view, because people really don't have a clue, and it's sometimes better to just not try to explain.

    This time, though, I had to try and put my feelings into words.

  11. Yeah. Interestingly, no matter how many people were negative, I couldn't see such a nice-looking man doing such harm, so I never really worried.

    The innocence of babes, I assume. πŸ˜€

  12. Wow. This is a very passionate, eye-opening, and prolific post. I'm glad you shared this. I've only seen and read news stories about what was going on over there in South Africa. The US school system seems to blow over the rest of the world's history current and past focusing on America only. Even as an adult, I always feel in the dark unless I'm fortunate to meet someone from another country or read a book on the subject.

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