When I was about ten years old, I read a book called The Diddakoi by Rumer Godden. It was profoundly influential, because it was the first time I remember being aware of the sharp injustices people suffer based on arbitrary things like race. This is strange, since I grew up in 80s South Africa. But I guess when you’re a child, you take your world for granted.
I was 11 when Nelson Mandela was released from Robben Island. It is the first event of political import of which I remember being aware. Him walking through those crowds, smiling and waving.
Mandela’s kindness, strength and forgiveness shaped the place I grew up. I went to one of the first multi-racial high schools in South Africa, a fact for which my parents took some flack. But it shaped me (and my peers) in profound ways. We grew up under the light of that man, his courage, his ability to put his own anger and fear aside for the sake of a greater future. He preached forgiveness, tolerance, humanity, compassion. These things became the pillars on which my worldview was built. It utterly changed the way that South Africa as a country grew out of the hell that was apartheid.
He made my country better. And he made me better as a human. He proved that one life really can change the world. He proved the power of compassion, love, forgiveness. He changed my life, and the lives of millions of other people, and the way the world works, and the way people view other people.
He didn’t do it alone, because no one ever does, because it is the great work, but he was one of our greatest. Our greatest humans, South Africans, warriors, prophets, men of love.
There will be hundreds of these tributes over the next few days and weeks, I am sure. I was just one teenage white girl in a broken country, but he influenced my life, and my world view profoundly. So this is my little drop in the ocean of the love and hope he engendered.
Few people have such profound proof that they leave the world better than when they got there. Madiba, wherever you are, you did the best work. You were a hero among men. You were a great light – the best kind, the kind that does not go out, but gets passed on. To us. And our children.
I have never wept at the death of a famous person, but I did today. Not because he died. He was old and sick and tired, and he deserved rest. I cried because of all he did and all he was, and how profoundly he touched the world. Because he was a man, and he made mistakes, and yet he remains the embodiment of love and hope and compassion in a dark world.
Madiba. You were the shit, yo. Go well. Hamba Kahle.