The kilometers of queues and the conversations within brought back a flood of memories; black and white, young and old, even the infirm had travelled hours and days to join the sombre lines that snaked around the streets, through parks and stadiums. It was the re-enactment of our grand democratic baptism in 1994. My son, Kami, was with me; he, and thousands from the next generation, witnessed for the first time the scale of solidarity that won us our freedom. It was inter-generation learning of justice on a grand scale in spite of the pain that was etched on our faces.
This was our second day at Fountains. The previous day we had only reached the Tswane showgrounds before time ran out. This time we were determined to get to the Union Buildings. Zwelinzima Vavi and I felt that the best way to honor Madiba was to stand in the queue with the people who loved him and held his values like precious treasures deep in their hearts. It was an exhilarating experience for us all, a feeling of our profound shared humanity. Friendships forged in the furnace of our sorrow.
Photo: The Author and Zwelinzima Vavi in Soweto.
There were no celebrities here, no grandiose speeches. There was just dignity, genuineness and camaraderie of the people; no rhetoric, no feigned affection; just pure love and respect. We wound our way through the park, boarded the buses on this epic final journey to see our icon.
But unlike 1994, this time there was only one polling station open. And it held the body of our beloved Madiba, our founding father of democracy. He lay in state, at the Union Buildings, in the very place where he had made that soaring speech in which he pledged “Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another…”
We filed in; pausing in this moment of the amphitheatre of history; passing silently past the casket, we felt the potential of a united South Africa vibrate through our soul, calling us to action. Madiba exuded the same serenity which in his life had filled the hearts of everyone he touched – the billions of the poor, marginalised and oppressed in the world. We felt a deeper connection with the body of the leader before us than to the actions and ideals of those whom we live with every day on the global stage; even in death he was able to call out the humanity within each of us; to care, to embrace our people with integrity, humility.
Photo: ‘We filed in; pausing in this moment of the amphitheatre of history; passing silently past the casket, we felt the potential of a united South Africa vibrate through our soul, calling us to action.’
Leaving this solemn shrine I sensed the disciplined determination. We connected back to his fiery commitment and vowed not abandon dream of a better life for all. As we descended the stairs the helplessness and the fear evaporated. The streaming column of humanity was united by a single-minded focus on reclaiming the legacy of Mandela. They are reclaiming our shared past. And we were unafraid again.
And like in Soweto, under those pelting rains from the heavens where a sun shone under each umbrella, we wiped away our tears and found strength. The people loved Madiba because, as a revolutionary, he placed social solidarity and justice at the core of his entire being. He was not just our president. He was one of us, our friend, our comrade. We trusted him even when we disagreed with him.
We should not be looking for another Mandela. This week is an opportunity for us to search for the Mandela within each one of us.
We want our leaders to live up to the morality of Madiba. We want our leaders to be honest. And to do what the father of our nation did so well: listen. Listen to the people before they stop listening to you; because the people have found the courage and fearlessness of Mandela to demand the promise of freedom now.
And that silent oath is what pervades the country and world today. In the villages, slums, factories, mines and schools the spirit of Madiba will rise, and with it our determination to fulfill the promise that ‘never again…’ DM
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"Look for lessons about haunting when there are thousands of ghosts; when entire societies become haunted by terrible deeds that are systematically occurring and are simultaneously denied by every public organ of governance and communication." ~ Avery Gordon