On December 5, 2013, a blanket of sorrow wrapped the world as it was announced the former South African President Nelson Mandela passed away peacefully in his home at the age of 95. Just days prior, our very own Mashonda made her first trip to South Africa to learn about the legacy Mandela built throughout his life. She wrote about her accounts.
As soon as the plane scraped the concrete of Johannesburg, I sensed an energy shift in my body. I had officially made my return to the land of our origin, and was about to encounter an experience inequitable to any prior. The fourteen hour flight from JFK left a final connection to my final destination, Cape Town, South Africa. I was delighted, and my imaginative expectations were reaching new heights. Following the additional 2 hours on the connecting flight, I stepped off the plane to be greeted by countless bright smiles and friendly welcomes of the people of South Africa. I knew this trip would change my life, and I was positive I would return to America a newly enlightened woman; a woman better than the one I arrived as.
The stunning coastline of Clifton Beach was one of the first elements to grab my attention. The Atlantic Ocean had sealed her spot as she painted across my view in a full body of unique shades of blue and white. The sprawling beauty made it all feel real; I was at the bottom point of the world’s second largest continent.
I stayed at a very charming, ultra modern beach cottage, The Clifton, but while the amenities of the hotel were breathtaking, they weren’t my sole focus. One of the most important things for me to do on this trip was to visit the children of the land, to learn more about their lives and culture. I drove through a few villages and came across two little boys and their sister walking home from school. Curiosity took over and I wanted to know more about them, so we pulled over to talk with the school kids. They weren’t afraid to talk to me, they were open and willing to learn from me and I from them. Our encounter was brief, but I will remember those children forever. Their spirits were so rich, and they were amazingly beautiful, happy children.
I spent the remainder of the my stay learning about South Africa’s rich culture, and took in the country that was once gripped by its pulse by the injustices of the apartheid moment, and absorbed even more about the man who made the country what it was, the man who shook the world: Nelson Mandela.
Growing up in America, as a child the name Nelson Mandela had one resounding connotation, “Human Peace Maker.” One unique human being that believed in equality and was willing to give his life for it. I desired to go to the places he had been, see the things he had seen and stand on the same grounds as him. I drove down to Cape Town City Hall.
My tour guide explained that on February 11, 1990, only hours after Mandela’s freedom from prison, he delivered his first public speech from the balcony of the City Hall. I then requested him to pullover so that I could dwell in that very same spot as my “Peace Maker.” The energy was refreshing and I felt his power.
Next we drove over to the Robben Island Gateway. There were many rare photos and artifacts at the gateway entrance. As much as I felt at peace, there was a looming feeling of sadness and distress. I couldn’t help but imagine what Mandela had endured on that island. The thoughts were enough to change my mood, but knowing what developed from it and what this man represents today is how I found my closure and peace.
Learning the news of Mandela’s passing stung deep, but learning of the changes he made possible in a country as beautiful as South Africa just days prior put my soul at ease knowing he would rest easy, confident that he lived his life to its truest potential.
Amandla Awethu. Thank you, South Africa for your hospitality, and thank you Madiba, for your courage.