By now you’ve probably heard the news that Nelson Mandela has died at 95 years of age. I’m sure many will write tributes in the days to come. I’ve already seen a few, with at least one turning it into a soapbox to criticise our current government and others rushing to point out that Mr Mandela had been a terrorist in his early life, thus hardly deserving of our tribute and respect. This saddens me, for though he was far from perfect, he was still a great man in the way that very few men in history have been.
I grew up in South Africa in the 1980s and 1990s. Back then I knew little of Madiba. I made racist jokes and hated him because that was what we had been taught to do. But as I grew up I got to know more about him. I learnt that here was a man who understood about forgiveness, who knew about compassion and self-sacrifice, and about not giving people what they truly deserved.
People have called him the Jesus of South Africa. I wouldn’t go that far, but if ever there were a man who showed people what it meant to be Christ-like, it was him. Sure, he made his faults, even in these last two decades of his life, but for once here is someone I hope we’ll remember not for his mistakes, but for what he did right in his life.
I want to borrow from what John Scalzi has written and say that I am glad to have lived in the same period of history as this great man, and while we will all miss him dearly, I’m glad he can finally take his well-deserved rest.
Stil, broers, daar gaan ‘n man verby.
(Silence, brothers, a man is passing.)
en dis verlaas.
(for the last time.)
Daar’s nog maar één soos hy;
(There is but one like him:)
bekyk hom goed.
(remember how he looks.)
From a poem by Jan F. Cilliers in tribute to the Afrikaner-hero from the Anglo-Boer War, Genl. Christiaan de Wet. With thanks to Max du Preez.
English translation my own.
7 thoughts on “Rest in Peace, Tata Madiba”
Couldn’t comment due to internet difficulties last week, but thought your post was wonderful. I am sorry that my children will only know him as an historic figure one day…
Don’t worry. I suffered from the same internet difficulties all weekend. Thank you for the compliment. My hope is that new leaders will rise up to follow in Mandela’s footsteps and that our children will get to know them instead.
Mandela’s passing has dominated the news here in New Zealand too – on Friday the government flags all hung at half-mast in respect for him. A very great man who showed us the way in kindness, forgiveness and compassion.
That he was. I liked Desmond Tutu’s speech on Friday afternoon: He said that Mandela was not an anomaly, but that we are all created for that kind of goodness and that we must make Madiba’s dream our dream. He is a symbol that reminds us it is possible to live life differently.
At least one major national news broadcast in the U.S. devoted much of their broadcast to Mandela. Usually, only a major natural disaster gets the news to focus so much on a foreign country.
So yes, I suppose we could say that Mandela was a force of nature…
I like that. Thanks.
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