Flowers for Madiba
December 11, 2013 § 5 Comments
It’s been an upside-down week, a week where the school holidays began and Nelson Mandela’s life ended. The contrast between the mundane and the momentous this week has been almost more than I can process.
South Africa has celebrated in its own idiosyncratic way; as I write this I’m watching Ladysmith Black Mambazo deliver their acapella alchemy at the Cape Town memorial concert for Madiba, but the Cape Town concert follows a mostly farcical official memorial service, featuring booing crowds, presidential selfies and a fake official sign language interpreter.
I found it all frustrating at first, but I’ve had some time to think, and tonight I view it all with a smile, because it’s all so typically South African. Sometimes we are the very epitome of that apocryphal Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.”
Life in South Africa is many things, but it is never, ever dull.
I have looked to official events like the concert and yesterday’s memorial to help me grieve for our great Madiba. In many ways he was an enigma, and yet, undoubtedly, he was the father of our nation and a peerless leader. And in the end, there’s no ceremony or tribute that can truly do him justice.
The thing that has helped me grieve the most was going to his house on Friday morning, just twelve hours or so after he died. I decided to visit on the spur of the moment, my two daughters in tow. I wanted them to participate in this historical event in some way, to hep them to appreciate something of Mr Mandela’s impact on the South Africa they were born into.
I cut a bunch of hydrangeas from my garden, and drove the short distance to Houghton. We parked as close as we could, and then we walked a block or two to his house with other South Africans who had also come to pay tribute to the great man.
I wish I had the words to describe the scene that met us. In the centre of the gathering, a small group of ANC members sang freedom songs and danced without flagging for even a moment, while around them, South Africans from all walks of life milled around, some taking photos, some crying, some smiling, some simply soaking up the atmosphere. There was a feeling of simultaneous sadness and celebration, and somehow, it worked. It felt right. It felt appropriate.
I had to queue a little to lay my flowers with all the others, but there was no pushing or shoving. We wordlessly made way for each other. Somehow, it seemed, we were all a little gentler with each other than usual. We communicated with looks and smiles and nods that said more than words could ever convey. And for me, there was an element of déjà vu – the first democratic elections in 1994, and the Soccer World Cup in 2010, events both inextricably linked to Nelson Mandela.
It was one of the more moving experiences of my life, and I’m so grateful to have experienced it. More importantly, I’m grateful to have lived through the dismantling of apartheid – something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime, and something Nelson Mandela wrought with his ANC comrades. We still have a long way to go, yes, but at least we don’t live under the burden of institutionalised racism any longer. And it may be a two-steps-forward-one-step-backward process sometimes, but in South Africa we love to dance, so that little shuffle works for us. We may be feeling our way, but we’ll feel it together.
And while my simple bunch of flowers, cut from a bush in my garden, might be buried under the deluge of other bouquets that have been left, I’m glad I left them. I’m glad I was able to take my children with me. And I’m glad that from now on I will always associate hydrangeas – those beautiful blue blooms – with one of the world’s most beautiful souls.
Enkosi kakhulu, Tata Madiba. Lala ngoxolo, uhambe kakuhle.