Happy 95th Birthday Madiba

Today, 18 July 2013, marks the 95th birthday of Tata Madiba, the Grandfather of this beautiful and diverse country we call home. What makes the occasion even more auspicious is that it is in all likelihood the last birthday this great man will ever celebrate.

Let me take you back to why Madiba means so much to us all. You will no doubt learn about what he did, his selfless actions and ability to unite a nation in history, but what you won’t be taught is about the personality of this icon.

On 11 February 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from prison after serving 27 years. At this time I was on a train (EduTrain) with a number of other scholars from Johannesburg and Pretoria in what was my first time of interacting with kids from other race groups. Government schools had yet to become inclusive so I was at schools with only white kids. It was an amazing experience for me and there were many moments where previously held racial views were broken down. The most memorable was of a white Afrikaans boy who was a rugby player breaking down in tears and apologising to the black kids in our group for the how badly he had treated black players on the rugby field, something his father had told him to do.

Madiba showing off his playful side
Madiba showing off his playful side

I remember us disembarking from the train at Pretoria station and forming a massive circle on the platform and holding onto one another, not wanting to go back to the reality of the unreal world we were living in. We had gone through a life-changing experience together and were leaving into a very different world than the one we had left. Appartheid for all intents and purposes was over.

Fast forward to 27 April 1994, Freedom Day, the first ever free and fair elections to be held in South Africa. It was my first opportunity to vote and I queued outside Bryanston High School in the almost carnival-like atmosphere with Gagga, Grandpa, Uncle Ryan and Aunty Kristy to cast my vote. We didn’t get to vote that day as the queues were too long but we went back the next day and I voted for the first time on my 20th birthday along with over nineteen and half million other South Africans. What an amazing feeling it was and what a way to celebrate a new decade!

Nelson Mandela receiving the notebooks from Donald Card
Nelson Mandela receiving the notebooks from Donald Card

In the mid 2000’s I was privileged to work on a project with the Nelson Mandela Foundation for the handover of two of Madiba’s notebooks from prison by ex policeman Donald Card. It was an incredible experience as not only did I get to work on this historic occasion, but I also got to briefly meet the man. This took place on 21 September 2004 at the Nelson Mandela Foundation. I cannot describe the aura he has around him or what an impact he had on me by just meeting my eye. He had a twinkle in his eye, a genuine warmth and magnetism.In true Madiba style at the handover ceremony, he thanked Card and said to the crowd, “What you have just witnessed could be described as one old man giving another old man two old notebooks.” What a moment it was and I have the newspaper cutting saved where my arm is next to his in the picture, a reminder to me that it really did happen!

I count myself extremely lucky to have met this amazing man and hope that, although he won’t be around forever, his spirit and dedication to righting the social injustices in this country will live on for yours and future generations.