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Remembering Madiba

Remembering Nelson Mandela invariably implies remembering the struggle. Although I never met Nelson Mandela, I feel a deep sense of mourning – and celebration – during this time. Like millions of South Africans who lived through the struggle days we share a common thread – the fight against oppression and inequality of all people – because when you are on the side of oppression and inequality you don’t wish it on any man. That is why we mourn Mandela’s passing – because he fought for it, for all, in a magnanimous way. It’s a closing, if you will, of a very large chapter of our lives. As a Christian I am fully aware that it is only Jesus Christ who can give true freedom. Nelson Mandela was used by God in order to bring us closer to that freedom – for what kind of Christianity is real if it shackles the people?

I would like to share with you some of my earliest memories of the struggle. It starts when I was a young boy, probably 7 or 8 years old, if not younger. We lived in Lansdowne in the southern suburbs of Cape Town. On one particular day there was mayhem in Lansdowne Road. There were Caspers and Buffels and the air was dense with teargas. My cousin and I happened to be at the shop and we had to get home. Home wasn’t far but we had to run through the fog of teargas – it was a precarious situation because on the one hand we needed to keep our eyes closed else it would burn and on the other we needed to see where we were running. We eventually made it home, but only after running into a neighbour’s yard to catch our breath. It was an adrenaline pumping experience for a small child.  

My second memory was when I was travelling by train with my mother. We were at the train station and I always remember seeing the sign for the 2nd class citizens on certain carriages – Coloureds Only – that was us. It always stood out for me. I never looked further up or down to the Whites Only or Blacks section. It was almost conditioned in us to not bother with the other races. The next time I saw the Coloureds Only sign was on a day at Bellville station – but this time the signs were lying on the ground. Something big had happened.

On the day of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison – 11 February 1990 – when we should’ve been celebrating with the rest of the world, I said goodbye to my brother, because the family had decided it was best for him to move to Kimberley to live with our aunt. There were deep issues in our family at the time, which caused a lot of pain, but it wasn’t my brother’s fault – he was the scapegoat. I layed on the lounge floor on this hot day, after returning from seeing him off, listening to the coverage of Nelson Mandela being freed from prison. Our television’s tube had blown and all we could make out on the screen was a white line. It was supposed to be a day of freedom, but our family didn’t see the light that day. I felt as if we were in a prison.

There were three other significant periods for me. The first was the marches. For me it started when I was in Grade 8 (then it was called Standard 6). Our school had banned us from participating in any of the marches – but when freedom fighters came to the school we would jump over the fences and join the marching. I couldn’t resist not being a small part of the change that was needed. I recall also attending one of the funerals of a notable struggle victim – because there were TV cameras from ABC and CNN and others.  During my high school years I joined the Students Representative Council (SRC). One of our responsibilities was to maintain peace amongst our fellow learners – this was a time when protesting was a very common form of action. On one occasion we had to go to another high school in a black township to dissuade their SRC from violent mass action against our school. It was a tense day – we spent hours in discussions with them on their premises – finally finding an alternative means for them to channel their concerns of a bad education system. During my university days I took to a different form of mass action – writing. I joined UCT’s Varsity Newspaper and penned articles that fought newer forms of oppression and inequality.

The second period was when Desmond Tutu and other leaders declared a year of peace for South Africa. It was a prophetic statement and call to God to bring peace to our nation. I can still feel the sensations of that period – I recall having a real sense of God’s presence over a nation. We got commemorative plaques to show solidarity with our leaders during that year – they are still in my lounge!

The last period I recall was Election Day – it was an amazing day – everyone was excited. I couldn’t vote – I was 17 at the time, but my mother and the rest of the family went to vote. What a great day and time that was. Freedom had truly come to South Africa!

And now, with freedom in my hands, I use the pen, and my voice, to further the rights of the oppressed. In this way, I believe, I continue with the legacy that Nelson Mandela leaves us, and continue to build on the message of the gospel of peace. Thank you Mr Mandela for your contribution – you have fought the good fight.

 

 

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