I knew that this fateful day would come. At the age of 95, death was lurking above like a dark cloud before a treacherous thunderstorm. Still somehow, I was beyond stunned when yesterday in the middle of an afternoon meeting in New York City, I found out that former South African President Nelson Rolihlanhla Mandela had passed away. A wave of strong emotion hit me all at once. I could feel the tears slowly forming around my eyes and my heart racing at the thought that this man, this hero, this symbol of hope – that I had highly revered had passed.
He was born Rolihlahla Mandela on July 18, 1918 in Mvezo, South Africa. Legend goes that Mandela enjoyed pointing out that his name means “troublemaker” but he was later given the name Nelson by a elementary school teacher. You must understand that I was born in Zimbabwe so the sheer proximity to South Africa has always made me feel connected to that region. The unbelievable atrocities the black population population faced for years at the hands of white minority rule was never foreign to me. The idea that the color of your skin could put you at a disadvantage for jobs, education, healthcare and limit what neighborhoods you could travel to hurt my soul. My personal definition of hell is not some far-fetched boiling pot where this mythical villain with red horn cranks the heat up to 1000 degrees – it is what apartheid regime was in South Africa.
On my way home yesterday, I started to think about what the legacy of Nelson Mandela meant to me. I have always admired how Madiba kept his hatred in check after being imprisoned for 27 years. I believe there this misconception that his was gentle giant who wasn’t bitter after his long imprisonment. Many historians counter that by saying he was in fact pissed (who wouldn’t be after 27 cruel years in prison) but what I find really remarkable is how he was able to overcome and triumph over his anger. He defied all odds by conquering and often times even befriending his oppressors with his natural charm and agile spirit.
He was only 44 when he was unfairly sentenced to the shark infested Robben Island only to be released at the age of 71. It absolutely breaks my heart that for 27 years in prison he couldn’t touch his wife and the only contact they had was through a thick glass partition of the prison visiting room. Madiba was in prison when his mother and his son died, can you imagine his anguish at not being able to attend their funerals? It’s enough to drive a sane man crazy. How can one possibly forgive? In his infinite wisdom Mandela was asked about keeping his anger in balance and he responded “hating clouds the mind. It gets in the way of strategy. Leaders cannot afford to hate”. Word. That easy magic he naturally possessed and the ability to overcome is what made him extraordinary. He had laser vision and focus on what his work was on this earth and nothing – not even being jailed in harsh and inhumane conditions was going to change that.
I believe that God took a little more time creating Madiba. His ability to not only be a leader in the anti-apartheid movement but to become this phenomenal global icon of peace and reconciliation is what gives him sainthood status in my books. He sacrificed spending precious time with his wife and being a father so that South Africans could have basic civil liberties. Don’t get it twisted Mandela didn’t liberate South Africa alone and yes there were some missteps along the way but the truth still stands- he was a fierce fighter with unwavering sense of courage.
My prayers go out to Mr. Mandela’s family. The world has lost an incomparable figure but they have lost a father, a grandfather and husband. To his heroic former wife Winnie Mandela, his lovely current wife Graca Machel, 3 daughters, 17 grandchildren and 14 great grandchildren – the world mourns with you. My prayer right now is that world gives you time and space to mourn uTata. Mandela sacrificed so much of his life to public service, I hope you can have this moment of transition in private away from the scrutiny of the media.
An angel was called home yesterday on December 5, 2013, so to say I am devastated would be an understatement, I am absolutely gutted. So what happens now? The truth of the matter is that the onus is now on us. Yes, me and you. The way we chose to live our lives, who we impact in a meaningful way and ultimately how we contribute to the greater human experience is the best tribute we could ever gift Mandela. Even as sadness fills my heavy heart and I mourn Madiba as if he were kin to me, I am grateful for the long and awe-inspiring life of Nelson Mandela.
Long live Madiba, Viva! Your spirit will forever live on in all of us.
Makho Ndlovu is a Zimbabwean born celebrity reporter and blogger based in New York City. You can follow her @MakhoNdlovu. To learn more about her, check out her personal blog Makho-Ndlovu.blogspot.com
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty