Growing up as a white, middle class Afrikaans South African, I was very much ignorant of the politics of the day in the 70’s. I lived my privileged suburban life using the Whites Only entrances, beaches, benches without ever thinking about it. We had ‘coloured’ staff, a whites only school, church, circle of friends. It all seemed so normal.
In 1996 I asked my staff (all African at the time) what they would like to do for their end of year party. “Robben Island” they said. My heart sank into my shoes. But – I asked, so I delivered. We all tracked across a choppy sea to Robben Island. And there this white boy woke up – too late, but I woke up. It was one of the most surreal experiences of my life. Suddenly this reality of a man who sacrificed everything for what he believed in hit me. Being there with my ‘Black staff’, seeing this through their eyes, changed my view of South African politics forever. To this day I am grateful to my staff for showing me Robben Island.
I was in my 40’s when I attended the first 46664 concert in Cape Town. When Nelson Mandela walked onto the stage, the eruption of pure emotion in the stadium brought me to tears. Suddenly – so late in my life – the reality hit me. He is human. He is a Grandfather, an Elder.
Today, the entire world honours this legacy, with the most heads of state ever to attend a funeral. We are not blind to the controversy or the politics surrounding Madiba. We are not blind to the long road ahead for this country. But – the icon that never gave up humbles us, he who taught real forgiveness, without giving up what he believed.
We salute you Madiba, Elder of our nation.