A South African’s Tribute
Living in France has its perks. I was going to send out a blog about my adventures in Paris, or Monaco, or Nice but while I was compiling an epigrammatic account of my idyllic life, a dear countryman passed away. Our former president had been ill for some time, his death was imminent and I had prepared for it. Or had I? I was awake when the news came through on my laptop last night. I told myself, it’s OK, the man had been suffering, his time had come. Afterall he was 95, it was a good innings. And yet I spent the following day in some kind of melancholic torpor. As the sun rose I ensconced myself on the balcony of my hilltop village house in Provence, put on a Johnny Clegg CD, opened a bottle of wine and conducted a day long vigil to Nelson Rolihlalha Mandela.
Mandela was a household name when I grew up in Johannesburg during the 70′ and 80s, albeit with negative connotations. Nonetheless, the imprisoned Mandela sparked my youthful liberal sentimentality, which developed, as I grew older, into fully-fledged political activism. I dodged the military call-up, was sent to study overseas where I hobnobbed with young communists and other idealistic subversives before returning to South Africa to study politics at the University of Cape Town. The very day I began university, Mandela was released from his prison at Victor Verster a short distance away near Franschhoek. To tell you the truth, he had taken the wind out of my political aspirations. I had signed up for a course in politics intent on a life of protest and subversion, but the release of Madiba ruined my future. How was I to protest against an evil system when the battle had already been won? The man was to prove his greatness in the following years but I had to give up my protest politics. Thanks to Nelson Mandela I became a scuba diving instructor.
Paradoxically though it was because I was a diving instructor that I had my one and only encounter with the great man. I had opened a scuba store in Sandton City, Johannesburg. For some reason, Mandela one day visited the centre. The mall was abuzz with excitement as Madiba toured the shops. He paused at mine, partly out of curiosity at my aquatic merchandise, and partly because of my 12 year old adopted black brother. It is no secret that Mandela loved children. He strode over and shook the young man’s hand before moving on. My half-brother Themba then followed the entourage and muscled in for another hand-shake. The great man was much amused by the little fellow’s persistent antics. I guess we South Africans all have our ‘Madiba Moments’. He was truly an inspiration and the fact he inadvertently forced me into a life of scuba diving pushed into a level of politics that truly suits me best – animals and the environment. My political will remains as powerful as when I was a teenager only now, thanks to Madiba, I am a fully-fledged environmental activist.
RIP Tata, we will miss you.