I wasn’t going to write about Madiba

I wasn’t going to write about Madiba because, really, it has all been said, and in cleverer, more eloquent ways than I know how, but I was so moved – no, moved doesn’t even describe it – by the feeling at last night’s Mandela memorial at the Green Point Stadium that today I can’t think of anything else. So, I’m going to keep it short and not overly sentimental (if that’s possible for me) and just say this: it is in times of stress that a person’s true character emerges, and over the past week, as we have reeled in shock, felt blown open by grief and mourned, I think, in a more personal capacity than even we expected to do – I mean, it’s not like we actually knew the man – it has been through the pain and the sadness and the uncertainty of not knowing what’s going to happen now that the true character of our country has emerged. And in the wake of this loss, what we really are has been revealed to us in a way that is quite astonishing.

Speaking personally, I have been a little jaded of late. Nkandla and kids not getting text books for a year will do that to you. I love this country more than the sky, but there have been moments when I’ve watched our president in action and thought, yussus, guys. We’re up shit creek without a paddle here. And then Mandela died, and the way this country responded has made me realise how much unbelievable goodwill is out there for the taking; how much love, hope, acceptance and respect exists amongst our people, and how minor and insignificant our differences are. It was when a local radio station played Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika on the morning after we learned of Tata’s death and people, on their commute, pulled their cars over to the side of the road, got out and stood with their hands on their hearts. It was the picture of a young white South African man outside Mandela’s house holding an old black woman in a tight embrace as she wept for our leader. It was the woman in a domestic worker’s uniform and the old lady in a mad fur coat standing side by side on the pavement with their fingers interlaced like old lovers.

It was Helen Zille taking the podium last night and belting out Xhosa struggle songs in the strong, brave, unwavering voice of the warrior that she is; Johnny Clegg delivering an impassioned speech in Zulu before singing the song he wrote for Mandela; the black tenors singing in Afrikaans, and Freshlyground doing a spine-chilling version of Bright Blue’s ‘Weeping.’ But it wasn’t just that. It was the feeling in the air. Sitting in the stadium, I kept looking around and behind me because I was so mesmerized by the sense of love and unity that abounded in that place. Whenever you caught somebody’s eye a smile of solidarity was exchanged. We danced together and we sang together, and I’ve never known such a sense of being one people. Some young black guys laid a South African flag on the floor, and they danced around it, having a celebration of their own. A growing group of toyi-toyiing, flag and poster-wielders danced around the inside of the stadium – first this way, then that way. A white girl holding a huge flag ran to join them lest she miss out on one second of the fun.

A mottled sky began to turn pastel pink, and for about 10 seconds the clouds around the moon made a face. A few evening stars came out, and the air was soft and warm. Our girls started getting sleepy but we didn’t want to leave. There was some kind of magic in the air. As we finally made our way out of the stadium to the sounds of Ladysmith Black Mambazo starting their set I kept looking behind me, wanting to capture it all; wanting to put it in a bottle so that I could have it, always. And I will, in a way. Whatever happens to us in the future, that evening will always be stored somewhere in my heart. Because that – that love – is what South Africa really is.

The song that finally made me do the ugly cry. RIP, our Tata Mandela.


43 thoughts on “I wasn’t going to write about Madiba

  1. Hi Sue. My response as placed on Facebook. I loved this post and so wanted to share this with you for what it’s worth.

    So much angst being shared on Facebook about how to ensure that we continue to walk in the steps that Madiba has laid out for us. There is concern on how to ensure that we hold onto the magic and angst about what we are going to return to when the crowds have gone home , the concerts over , the tears dried and the posters down. Well we are going to return to ‘I’. And it is ‘I’ that changes the world. Not ‘we’ or ‘them’ or ‘those in charge’.

    So if you appreciated Madiba’s generosity then embody it. Share what you have. If you appreciated his dignity offer it to others. If you appreciated his courage practice it. By embodying the characteristics that you admire you will in turn extend his reach. Not in the same way or with the same impact but the beggar at the gate will simply appreciate the sandwich. The road side vendor will appreciate the smile and the victim of violence will find comfort in your support.

    It’s not easy and I fail every day in my quest to honour his example.But it’s the only way to shift the dynamic in our country so try we must. Again and again. Madiba was not perfect but boy was he good enough. And likewise for us. We are good enough as individuals and as a nation. As long as we try .

  2. When I see your blog arrive in my inbox, I stop what I’m doing, close the office door, take a deep breath and take a few minutes to enjoy and appreciate your words. Thank you for this. I’ve had a week of a lump in my throat and a smile in my heart, and now tears as I read what you’ve captured have captured, as always, so beautifully. I am so proud to be South African.

  3. Thank you! I’m traveling in South America at the moment and I have not actually felt the pain and unity of RSA, it seems so unreal and far away. This made everything so real, I could imagine myself being there and doing the toi toi with my fellow country men. Thank you so much!

  4. Although we’ve lived in America for many years, I am African to my core. I told my sisters in SA that THIS was the time I yearned to be in SA, to be part of the SA Family celebrating our beloved Madiba, participating in the huge outpouring of love for the last great man of the 20th Century. The love expressed by almost all Americans has been overwhelming; I’ve never seen anything like it. Young children know small details of his life and declare him to be their hero. As was said of Lincoln and mournfully intoned by my president Obama, “we shall not see his like again.” Hamba Khahle, Tata.

  5. Beautifully written Susan…it made me cry for the country of my birth and for the warm, loving people I left behind…you are quite right..at times like this , you really know what South Africa is. Even with the numerous issues the country is facing, it is still the best country on earth.
    Thank you for sharing your experience for those of us who were not able to be there.

  6. You nailed it. He has become the image of what is best in us. He really hasn’t been with us in any normal sense for some time now.
    I used him ad the basis for the week’s theme challenge but ended up writing something quite different and using a quotefrom him.

  7. Thank you for this heartfelt post!
    I was not fortunate enough to attend the night but have felt the emotions through friends and pics that were taken… this was the way Madiba would have loved being celebrated. I too hope that his passing and the feelings of love surrounding it are the start of something better for our beautiful land.

    Hamba Kahle, Madiba

  8. … and Kelley, my niece, by posting your blogs, has captured me into your wonderful perspective with your superb writing. Thank you.

  9. I’m so glad you changed your mind. Thank you. Sniff.

    Jenny Duncan 46 The Country Village PO Box 324 Greyton 7233 Tel: 028 254 9975 Fax: 0866 858 510 Mobile: 082 886 4093 ifs@icon.co.za

  10. Hi Susan

    I’ve been blessed to be involved in many iconic moments in our lovely City and have been blown away by all the tweets from ordinary Cape Townians and all the positive articles about that beautiful tribute to Tata Madiba. But as a City official and project manager of this memorial event, we steer clear of commenting on any social platform, any media reports, but today, after reading this beautiful blog, I cannot not say anything…

    There is a beauty in Cape Town found nowhere else, Madiba saw that too. Its people being its core, it landscape our playground, table mountain our compass. The moment I received the call, it was getting down, working hard to give Madiba the tribute he deserved, no ulterior motives, no showing off, just paying tribute to the greatest human being of our generation

    We become focussed on protocol, logistics, production, safety, ytransport and hundreds of other smaller items. Momentum takes you away from your thoughts, feelings, emotions – we have a job too, a most honourable job at that too, and damm, we will do it well. Madiba deserved nothing less

    I think your moment became my moment – Freshlyground, with their usual flair, celebratory, positive energy stopped me cold. Standing on the steps in the stand, I saw my fellow countrymen and ladies dancing, singing, hugging, kissing, the SA flags everywhere – and that ‘thing’ in the air. I then realised, I never mourned the death of our Father, I never sat down and thanked him, really thanked for giving us what we have today. I realised that love really does make the world go round. Its a moment I will cherish forever, it was brief, there was work to be done but that sense of pride and honour will remain forever

    I became a father 3 months ago and while playing with my beautiful daughter the next day, I think I understood just how important the future is and just how profound Madiba work has been. We live in a great city, in a great country, with it’s great people – just how lucky are we?

    I’m an exceptionally proud Cape Townian, more so after Wednesday tribute to the Father of our Nation and how the Mother City bid farewell.

    Thank you to all those who share that night with me – it was beautiful

    City Official

    1. Wow, what an amazing letter to get! Thank YOU for making us so incredibly proud of our city, our country and our heritage. You guys did an astonishing job – we were blown away. You created a moment in time which will be cherished by all of us forever. Kudos to you. Kudos to all of us! Nkosi Sikelel ‘iAfrika. Big hug xxxxxxx

  11. Dear Susan – you are a brave and sensitive soul, and I agree with EVERYTHING you said in this article. But it occurs to me that we are in such deep shit here that any time something positive or heartwarming happens (like this memorial concert, and the Woolies “Asibonanga” thingie, which was tear-jerkingly wonderful) that we cling to it like a drowning man to driftwood, and I find that particularly sad and distressing. I mean, the whole world is laughing at us over the fake signing dude, and that is so embarrassing. How the f**k could that have happened??? Will any of these high-flying foreign peeps ever risk coming back here again? For whatever reason? So although I agree with you that we live in a wonderful country, I have to wonder, and fear, if we are going down the crapper faster than we thought we would. NOTHING has been resolved, nor will it be – Nkandla, Marikana, the arms deal, the Guptas, the fact that about ,0001% of our municipalities were given a clean bill of health re accounting, the list goes on and on – if you are connected to Zuma and/or the ANC, this is the Land of No Consequences, and that is truly terrifying. What do you think?

    1. Hi Bronwen
      thank you for your sweet words and this comment. I’m not a political writer, so questions like this make me nervous, but since you have asked, this is what I think. We live on a continent which has always been beset with problems. In life there is always a balance, and we get a lot of good and our fair share of bad. But it is a mistake to assume that this is the only corrupt government in the world and the only country which has problems. Take a look at Greece, Italy or Spain where corruption has been rife forever. South America is rotten to the core. Look at all the dictatorships; look at how the entire financial system went bankrupt due to inefficiency, corruption and greed. And this was ‘first world’ countries. Detroit went bankrupt. How is that possible? Imagine if it had been Cape Town, how the world would have pointed fingers. The problem is that we compare ourselves to Scandinavia where everything works (and not even everything, I lived there for a long time. Some things are incredibly backward and inefficient compared to SA), but people there pay a minimum of 50% tax. Here there is so much tax evasion our government barely stands a chance. The ANC inherited some huge social and economic problems from our previous government. It’s been 20 years and we’re experiencing the typical problems of a liberation government. They are fucking around and need to pull up their socks, but I see a turn in the tide. It’s a hell of a thing for a party’s own people to boo them on the world stage. We’ve had it with the ANC, and something is going to have to give. I think it’s astonishing that we never experienced civil war. We should have, all things considered. 20 years ago they told us we were going to the dogs. It hasn’t happened yet. The black middle class is growing quickly, and their spending power is now greater than the total whites who live here. I can’t quote stats offhand, but a schoolteacher who really cares about these issues was telling me the other night how many more people have access to housing and education than they did 10, never mind 20 years ago. There are a lot of poor people in this country. Until we can educate them we are going to face big problems. But we’re doing so good – better than we give ourselves credit for. Asfor the interpreter, the whole Madiba thing went so smoothly and professionally and magnificently, and I think it’s a shame that people are focusing on this one incident where we made a mistake instead of the many, many things we got so right. Personally, I think it’s really funny, and really African. There has to be one moment of madness, and that was it. I mean, you couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried. Have you seen the video where they interpret what he was really saying? It’s hilarious. And that, in my opinion, is what makes this place so beautiful and so special. Don’t be subsumed by the bad things, there are too many good. Every single country in the world was represented at today’s funeral. I don’t think that has ever happened before. It’s huge. We’re amazing. I mean, Oprah even brought Gail :-) Big hug.

  12. So brilliant. This has been an extraordinary week and a half. The Rainbow Nation is far more bright and solid than we may have thought. A legacy that astonishes.

    Thank you for this.

  13. Wow – thank you for that reply. If I could write a blog that is Exactly what I think South Africa needs to hear. I do believe that we are a little stuck in “white” frame of mind and although we should never be complacent about the corruption and the multitudes of enormous problems that the country faces, I do very firmly believe that we South Africans (particularly us white ones) have got to move past the fact that we think the country should be trouble-free. As you stated there is no Utopia and in fact we need to get up each morning and not talk on our phones whilst we drive and then bemoan the lack of respect for the law. We need to get up and know that our leaders are not hugely different to leaders around the world and that we the people will have to make the difference. And I think we are.

    Many, many thanks for your writing – it is delicious.

  14. Thanks to Sue Melck for directing me to Susan Hayden stunning and insightful summation on the passing of Madiba. As mere mortals who have reaped the benefits of what Nelson Mandela was able to achieve, we have a duty to the Nation. We have to keep his aims and ideals alive for generations to come, we need Mandela statues in every City, Town and Dorp, lest we forget!

  15. I am sitting at my desk (when I am supposed to be working, but it’s December and the sun is shining on my back so what the heck) and reading this and many other articles on your blog with a lump in my throat. I am trying really hard not to cry lol. I have been back in South Africa for a year now after living in the States for little over 3 years. But ever since I’ve been back I have been making plans to leave again. Researching various options on obtaining a visa to live in basically any other “first world” country. Mainly as a result of seeing how well my friends are doing overseas on Facebook. But something weird happened this past two weeks. With the passing of Madiba our country has really come together as a nation, as ONE people. Something he has been fighting for his whole life and it’s kind of sad that it really only materialized after his death or when something good happens like hosting the World Cup or winning the Rugby World Cup. But seeing the celebrations, and mourning’s, on television or in the streets and reading the articles in newspapers or on international newspaper websites has made me extremely Proudly South African. All of THIS that is currently happening in Cape Town and the rest of South Africa, even the rest of Africa, has dramatically changed my mind about moving back overseas. Reading your blog has made me want to stay here FOREVER. I mean why should I move back to the States. If I’m honest with myself was my life really way better there than it is here? I mean I came back for a reason didn’t I? No doubt the life is good there, if you have the money of course. I felt REALLY safe, the value of the dollar is amazing so I could buy what I really needed and more, the education system is really good. But then I listed the cons and the list was sometimes endless. The whole of my family lives in South Africa, yes I had a group of friends which became my family and a host family but it was never the same and would never amount to a real family. I feel like South African patriotism is bigger than American patriotism, if that makes sense, because we’re still proudly South African even in the bad times and even when we are the butt of all jokes…re the fake interpretator lol i still think it’s funny. How can I ever want to leave the Cape Town weather, the wind sucks though, the mountains, the scenery, the community, it just doesn’t make sense to me. Yes I am struggling a bit to make ends meet but living in this beautiful city with its beautiful people with my ACTUAL family makes up for that. I am going a bit off topic here but thank you Susan for your inspiring words, they inspired me to STAY. I even registered to vote for next year :). Maybe the next step would be to buy something that would force me to stay, something like a car maybe mmm??? Keep up the good work! And just something extra the angry expats are the ones usually unhappy with their lives in their current new city or country. I have come across so many expats that have nothing but bad things to say about the country THEY were born in but what I found interesting a lot of them also had bad things to say about the countries they currently find themselves in. So in plain they are just unhappy.

    1. I love this comment and you very much. And yes! to those miserable people who only have awful things to say. I just mark them as spam now so they can’t ever comment again. Life is too full of beautiful things and people to even waste a second of ones time on that garbage. So happy to read about your change of heart. Thank you for letting me know! Wishing you so much happiness and luck and success, friend. Big hug and kiss to you xxxxxxx

    2. Ashton, will say a prayer that opportunities open up for you, and that you open up opportunities. This country needs all the fantastic, great people it can get – and you sound like one of them!

      Praying 2014 brings you South African ABUNDANCE!

  16. Just read your blog for the first time, the one on the Mandela Memorial concert, brought me to tears once again.Cry this beloved country but love will prevail. Andrew Gunn

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