by Robbie Stammers

MANDELA

“If there is one thing I will fight you for–it is my respect.”

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So said Rohlihlahla Nelson Mandela to a prison guard who was leading him to the dock at the Rivonia trail of 1964. The guard was pushing him forward and at Mandela’s warning the guard backed down and shied away.

I recall thinking that this stand-off would surely become something epic. I remember reading his response and smiling as if I was reading about my comic-book hero.

I thought the entire ‘screenplay’ worthy of Oscar status. The hero fights for his people, only to be imprisoned for 27 years by the baddies. He gets treated like dirt but never dives into the mud to join them. Then, ‘The Robben Island Secret Seven’ turned up the heat from the inside and the baddies became extremely vulnerable on the outside.

“Out of nowhere,’ Mandela arrived from ‘The Island’ shaking his fist triumphantly in the air and saving the day. His hands spread the rainbow across the sky as the people rejoiced in their new-found freedom. A new land, a new Constitution, a new flag, a new anthem and a new combined multi-racial tribe.

I may sound like I am being cynical or farcical but in fact; the above description is honestly how much of an effect the man had on me. He still has that effect on me frankly, and so many people the world over. He had that power—ask anyone who saw him embrace a crowd with his ‘Madiba Jive’ and that infectious smile—it made us feel that anything was possible.

I will never forget watching his inauguration with my Gogo, Gladys Ndlazi.

Gogo, who lived and loved me like her own for most of both our lives. Gogo, who taught me how to stick-fight and speak Zulu. Gogo, who had to be hidden by my mother when the Pass people came by, until her papers eventually came through years later.

On voting day in 1994, I remember pushing her past people to the front of the endless queue because older people had preference. This gesture alone must have been the first time this ever happened to Gogo and how she smiled when she voted.

How she laughed with joy and lifted me into the air as if I was a mere infant. (I was 23 years of age).

South Africa DID become the Rainbow Nation. I felt proud to be in a country with 11 official languages and one official anthem for all—I still do, despite everything we may find to complain about and endure right now sadly. But now is not the right forum to do so—let us take this moment to rather celebrate Madiba.

Mandela crossed the boundaries of race, gender, religion and age. He did so in a society that was more polarized than almost any other at the time—one the world expected to explode along racial and ethnical lines. That it did not do so was largely due to this extraordinary man and his unique leadership style. Madiba’s influence transformed ordinary people, events and actions into the extraordinary.

At the end of the day, Madiba turned out to be something bigger and better than a comic-book hero; he turned out to be a man who has managed to inspire his people and the rest of the world through human actions. That gives us so much to celebrate.

Thank you Madiba and we salute you.

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