Losing Madiba: South Africa Grieves

At the Nelson Mandela Capture Site Apartheid Museum in Howick, South Africa, this sculpture was unveiled last year on the 50th anniversary of his arrest. It is made of 50 tall, narrow steel columns that when viewed at a distance show a profile of Mandela’s face. (Nicole Megan Gounder/YJI)

VANDERBIJLPARK, Gauteng Province, South AfricaLate last night, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma announced that Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, first black president and first democratically elected president of our nation, had died.
Never before have I witnessed such an outpouring of grief, love and celebration in my countrymen. Despite the late hour, South Africans and the world set the social networking sphere alight with their thoughts. Those near Mandela’s Johannesburg home hastened themselves to pay their respects.

Every South African has a Mandela story. “Where were you when Nelson Mandela was freed from prison?” they asked. And now, added to that catalogue, will be, “Where were you when Nelson Mandela died?”

Many South Africans followed television news coverage of Mandela’s death and the legacy he left. (Nicole Megan Gounder/YJI)

I was a baby on Feb. 11, 1990 when the father of our nation was freed after 27 years of imprisonment. Although I was oblivious to the events playing off around me, Nelson Mandela would become an icon of my childhood.
Along with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mandela’s was the first political name I came to know, long before I knew the word “politics.”
It took us until history classes in primary school to fully understand his service to our country and the world, but even before that, he gave us someone to emulate.
He gave us a hero. When our Grade 4 oral presentations were to be titled “My Hero,” the teacher had to place a moratorium on using Nelson Mandela as our subject, because no less than half of the class planned on doing so.

The historic marker at the spot in Howick, South Africa, where Nelson Mandela was arrested in 1962. (Nicole Megan Gounder/YJI)

Mandela, known by his clan name of Madiba here in South Africa, gave us – black, white, male or female – the freedom to say, “I want to be president one day.” And what a presidency to strive towards!

He gave us a role model. On the playgrounds, he gave us the question, “What would Madiba do?”
I see the loss of Madiba in the eyes of the children born after his historic election on April 27, 1994. I see the loss in the eyes of a 16-year-old, who never knew the angst of pre-1994 South Africa. I see the loss in the eyes of the toddlers who cry in their parents’ laps.

South African television coverage showed citizens reacting to the news of Mandela’s death. (Nicole Megan Gounder/YJI)

I see the loss in the eyes of adults who lived under the racist apartheid regime for most of their lives, and then were given the opportunity to live in a free country.
I see the loss of this great man all around me, but I also see the gains of a great life lived.
Last night South Africans sang and danced in honor of Nelson Mandela. Perhaps a strange custom to outsiders, this was not a  diminishment of his death, but a celebration of one of the greatest lives we know.
There will never be another Nelson Mandela, but may we all strive to carry forward his legacy of service, perseverance and reconciliation.
Mariechen Puchert is an Associate Editor for Youth Journalism International.

1 Comment