4 years ago, I walked on South African soil. A while back, I attended an event at the Edinburgh Book Festival featuring a South African writer. A man attended who was very critical of the speaker and he was telling me all the things I should see in Johannesburg, talking of Soweto and things he’d seen and the very fancy sounding hotel he’d stayed in. He was a lovely, kind gentleman with genuine compassion for all human beings. But I think he thought that I, like him, only knew white people. The fact is, until a couple of years ago – most of the South Africans I call friends are do not share my skin colour. The man was quite shocked when I explained that I knew very few ‘white’ South Africans, but I had made several ‘black’ friends in Durban.
This week, Nelson Mandela died. I find it tough to imagine a world without him in it. I am happy he is now at peace, no longer suffering from the lung diseases/illnesses. I happened to be in Glasgow the day after, who were the first UK city to give him ‘freedom of the city’ while he was still in prison. When the Conservatives were still calling him a terrorist. There was an event where people gathered to remember him. I’ll admit that I kinda love that the street that the apartheid governing South African embassy sat on in Glasgow was renamed ‘Nelson Mandela Place’ (while apartheid was still going on I believe). That’s just a great creative way of standing up for injustice and making your point. On its corner, people were leaving flowers, candles etc to pay their respects.
I don’t believe that Nelson Mandela was any more perfect than any other human being. I wish there had been no militant aspect to the ANC. But more than that, I wish there had been no violence, injustice, colonialism and apartheid in the first place. I have a lot of admiration for his grace, forgiveness, humility and the way he led during the few years he was President to allow healing and create a ‘Rainbow Nation’. Without his (and others) leadership, the photo above would never exist. When I was that little girl’s age, it would have been illegal for me to be married to a person that had a different colour of skin from me in South Africa. I imagine that little girl would not have been allowed to climb into my arms every day, or the many other kids that used us as human climbing frames!
So I want to say thank you to Madiba – for the way you led in your final decades especially. I am glad I can now visit and sing Zulu songs, and be friends with who I’m friends with! May you rest in peace in a world where no one gives a crap about your background, skin colour, sexual orientation, size, age or ethnicity. I hope one day I’ll be there too.