Thursday, 11 July 2013

My Madiba moment

(No, I never had the opportunity to meet him).


But in a week when our country watched anxiously as his condition deteriorated, quite a few pieces came by on Facebook, in newspapers, on other social media, about meetings with Mr Mandela, impressions of him etc. So obviously there was a lot of thinking back.
In 1991, I was a 2nd year student at the University of Pretoria.  Although the uni was "open" for all races, that was the first year that the residences were opened, and our res was one of the first.  It was a modern res, with four "apartments"on each floor, housing 5-6 students in each, and our floor was chosen to house two new girls: a senior music student, coloured, and a fellow agric student, a "Rehoboth Baster".

Now, before anyone take offence, that was how people was classified officially in my country then (and unofficially in the rest of the world).  Coloured referred to anyone mixed-race, or descending from mixed race, and the Rehoboth Baster refers to a community in the Rehoboth are of Namibia. They are still very proud and  protective of the name.  And the  irony - it took me 6 months the year before to realise she was "non-white", she was lighter-skinned than me, with bright green eyes, and it was only when she talked about Rehoboth that I first heard about them.  

Now, I grew up in the "old" South Africa, with very restrictive laws and mindsets. Indoctrination, anti-communist and anti-integration propaganda went down to school and church level. Very few people voiced different opinions, if they had any. Very few actually new who and what the ANC was, what they stood for and wanted to achieve; to white South Africa it was the forbidden organisation, communists and terrorists.  I was then in the lucky position to have grown up in a relatively politically neutral house, my dad was never a member of one of the super-Afrikaner groups.  He was also working for the then Prisons Department, with many of the well-known names under his care, so we did know a bit about these people.  I was 10 when I saw the cages in which maximum security prisoners had to sit and literally break stone into gravel at the Victor Verster prison where Mr Mandela was held for his last years, when we visited Robben Island and saw the stone quarry  etc. 

Now, that was the context of this whole long train of thought!

So, after his release in 1990, Mr Mandela was touring the world, speaking to people, was not even elected as president of the ANC (only later that year). The country was in a bit of a turmoil with a lot of hope blacks) and a lot of fear (whites). A lot of frustration, because we didn't know what was going to happen.

Then he came to visit our University, one of the oldest, an Afrikaans "stronghold". I went along, curious, wanted to hear what he had to say.  I went alone.

The atmosphere in the amphitheatre was quietly excited.  Obviously many non-white students were there, the white "liberal" groups, and I think, many curious ones like me.  Lots of security.  And then the big man walked onto the stage, among tremendous cheering.  It was really an exciting moment to be part of.  But, unfortunately he couldn't even get into his speech, as the next moment, a white right-wing student ran onto the stage, storming towards Mr Mandela, who within seconds was surrounded by security and taken off stage. That was more or less the end of the meeting.  Some shouting, some singing, closed with the singing of Nkosi sikelel 'iAfrika (oh, the irony, I learnt the words of that as a 5yr old in 1976, our nanny taught me!)
Translation here , original audio here and current anthem here (just love how it sounds in a full stadium!)

It was quiet as we all left. I walk to the res, feeling so absolutely embarrassed and ashamed of my people that day.   Each to their our opinion, but the bad behaviour of that day, was something I wanted to totally distance myself from.  Of not being able to contain yourself, to just listen to what he would he would say, or if you didn't want to hear, to just stay away.

Back at the res, I walked past our Rehoboth girl's room where she was sitting on her bed, and we chatted about the events of the day. 

I will never forget when she said, quietly crying, that "your people will never accept us".

That day, my mindset shifted and I knew that my country had to change, It had hurt too many people.

That was my Madiba moment.

PS - read an article this week about a man who worked as a campus security guard that day.  He described how Mr Mandela didn't say one negative word about the events of the day, after being run to his car. He just thanked him.


Annie @ knitsofacto said...

Thank you for this post Stel. Looking into South Africa from outside in the 80s and 90s it was sometimes hard to understand what was going on so to see events through your eyes is really enlightening. And I loved that last rendering of the new anthem :)

Alessandra said...

this memory shared with us is a great one!
thank you, xxxx Ale

Anonymous said...

oh wow, beautiful. thanks for sharing. ..

Stel said...

Thanks girls.
It was, and still is, a surreal, beautiful, crazy country to live in. And today is his 95th birthday.

Zelda de Kock said...

So mooi raak geskryf - dankie Christelle. Ons vorder stadig, maar seker! Moeilik vir ander en selfs ons kinders om te verstaan waar ons vandaan kom. Was jy in Magrietjie / Madelief?