It was February 11, 1990 – I was eighteen years old walking through the streets of Johannesburg when I heard chanting in the distance. It grew louder as the source of the noise grew closer. Hundreds of black South Africans were in a mass of zealous celebration, and I’m embarrassed to admit I had no idea why.
But that afternoon, I joined millions of people around the country, all glued to our television screens as images flashed of a stately figure – an old man. Nelson Mandela was free. There he was, walking through the gates of Victor Verster prison in Cape Town, hand-in-hand with his wife, Winnie, both with an arm raised and giving the ANC salute.
Suddenly I, and the whole world, was aware of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. And during these past few days, the whole world has now been sharing in a nation’s grief – and the planet’s loss.
It’s been hard to know exactly how to feel since the announcement of his death was made late that night on Thursday, December 5th. Madiba himself had himself prepared us for the time when he would “go home”. His advanced age, frail state, and recent health problems, had left us accepting that the end of the most incomparable life of the twentieth century was near. Still, the news was – and still is – very difficult to process.
It was an incredible honour to have been in attendance at the memorial service at FNB Stadium yesterday. It’s a day I’ll never forget. It was a day that the world came to South Africa. It was a day when people of all race, colours, creeds and social standing united as one. It was the day that I realized that South Africa cannot, and will not, fail because of everything that Nelson Mandela stood for. I believe that days of hope like yesterday will continue.
And today is a day of renewed sorrow as I will be one of many thousands to file past him as he lies in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. The enormity and finality of our loss will sink in yet deeper.
But, today is also a day to continue to honour this most incredible of souls, to continue to live by his example, to be compassionate, forgiving, and to yearn and strive for a better, peaceful world.
We must dedicate our lives to the struggle of all people. We must fight against white domination, and we must fight against black domination. We must cherish the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.
Now we must let Madiba go, to let him have the rest that no human being has ever deserved more, and we must celebrate that he is finally truly free.
Hamba Kahle Tata Madiba.
(Go well Madiba.)
By Gareth Price in Johannesburg, South Africa
Photo by Pierre Oosthuisen