I was born 1971, in Soweto. I got to be ware of Nelson Mandela's name for the 1st time in 1976, during the riots in Soweto, mostly from the freedom songs my elder sisters and her comrades sang. Most of my boyhood and teenage years was spent seeing Police and soldiers in the streets looking for so called troublemakers. Silently but confidently I used to believe one day we will also get our guns, and shoot them police and soldiers out of our townships and out of our country for good. Then we would be free to become whatever we wanted to be. The man who was going to make that possible, according to reports I heard, was Mandela. At the time I only knew his name, and had never seen his face as his images were also banned. I actually first saw his picture clearly in 1988, when I was doing my first year at the university of Witwatersrand, in Johannesburg. There used to be student campaigns called 'Free Mandela Campaigns' where students of all colors marched on Campus into the streets of Braamfontein, the town in Johannesburg where the Campus was based. Such marches almost always ended up with police storming the crowd with rubber bullets and teargas, with some students getting picked up at 4 am in thee morning by police to be arrested for their role in organizing such marches. Students arrested and beaten brutally were white, black, Indian etc. both male and female. This is where I began to realize the magnitude of Mandela's stature. I also got to understand at the time that this was not only a movement in our campus, but most universities in our country as well as in Europe and the United States. My awareness and growth in understanding of Mandela's history got me more and more excited about his inevitable release and leadership of the 'revolution'. The difference now was that I understood from the many races of people pressing for his release, that it was for the freedom from the regime and not necessarily to get rid of all white people in our country. I was glued to my television with all my friends at the university the day he was released, and felt a deep sense of joy, triumph, hope, as tears were on the verge of my face. I remembered how many friends I lost due to being involved in underground activities and skipping the country to join MK. What Mandela looked like was different from the pictures I had always seen at the university, but nevertheless he instantly became a real father figure to me, and it has been like that ever since. His every word, intention, emotion, and action brought a sense leadership and fatherhood. Dad was back home. Through the turmoil leading towards the elections, as black on black violence escalated, I knew deep inside that it was intended to sabotage all of Mandela's efforts and spirit. I actually had a theory that both within the ANC as well as from the despairing Boers in government there were elements trying to create instability at the expense of people's lives, just to prove Mandela wrong and bring dirt to the 'legendary hero' figure. Only history proved me right.
On the day of voting, I was filled with tears and excitement, as my friends and I had slept with one eye open hoping we could get to the polling stations before the queues were too long. We all could not wait tote for Mandela! That is how everybody was talking, not so much the ANC, but Mandela, our rightful leader and long awaited liberator from Apartheid. And he led by example, more than exceeding every expectation.
Little did I know that his person would further rise to become a world icon, and I was proud, and still am proud of that. My first personal encounter of him was during Freedom Day in Mthatha, 1999, when they did a military parade of him in the town. I was in the crowd of course, and there was so much excitement at seeing this powerful figure passing before my very eyes. There was a sense of pride to be associated with him as a South African and as a Xhosa man. While living in Mthatha I often drove to Qunu to view his house, happy to just catch a glimpse of the place where he sometimes comes to lay his head, not even anticipating to see him.
In 2008, a friend who had personal close ties to Mandela was on the phone with him and asked Mandela to say hello to me. I was stunned and thought it was not real, on the phone I heard his voice, warm greetings as if he had known me for years, and to hear him ask my name and wanting to know more of me almost got me down with awe! His warm laughter and welcoming spirit made me feel like I could just walk into his house and do anything he wanted me to do. That whole hour I had a permanent smile on my face, and for the whole week I told everyone I met that I spoke to Madiba.
This morning since I heard the news, I have been periodically sobbing tears like a baby when reading the testimony of most people that had an encounter with Mandela. In his life, many of our dreams became a reality, both personal as well as for the country. He truly deserves the father status, even more so the Legend status.
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