One could say that the world stood still when news that South Africa’s first democratically elected president had died broke.
Most people would be able to tell you were they were and what they were doing when the news broke.
Three years on and the country reflects on the death of one of the most influential figures the world has ever seen.
Anti-apartheid revolutionary and Nobel Peace prize winner, Nelson Mandela, died on this day in 2013.
His Personal Assistant for 19 years, Zelda la Grange, as well as Zaakirah Vadi from the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation shared their thoughts with Bloemfontein Courant on how this global icon should be celebrated.
He became the voice of reason and is revered as a symbol for peace for always seeking reconciliation over revenge, even after the South African apartheid government that kept him behind bars for 27.
Author of the book, Good morning Mr Mandela, Zelda la Grange, served Madiba for 19 years in different capacities. She says we need to reflect on what values in which he held highly and that he was more than just a freedom fighter.
“He was a revolutionary but he was a humanitarian above everything else and he managed to distinguish between ideologies and humanity very well. I think today is the perfect day for us to remember that Madiba could connect with a person’s humanity above ideology. He could speak to the enemy and one of the well-known things he said is that ” ‘if you want to make peace with your enemy you have to work with the enemy because then they become your partner.’ ”
La Grange also said that despite the country being a in a difficult political state, people must remember that with respect anything can be resolved through mutual respect.
“We are not getting a good example about people and enemies respecting one another. But it starts with the self. Madiba believed every single day that if he could just change one person’s life, and he ended up changing the world, just like that,” she added.
Anti-apartheid activist, Ahmed Kathrada, was sentenced to life imprisonment along with Madiba, Walter Sisulu and a few others.
He says his one of Mandela’s greatest strengths was his ability to read political situation. Ahmed Kathrada Foundation spokesperson, Zaakirah Vadi, on behalf of Kathrada said this was quite during the Rivonia trial, when some of the prisoners thought they would receive the death penalty.
“At the Rivonia Trial, it was Mandela who lead the defence in its stance that this was a political trial, that we would admit to our political involvement, and we would not appeal the sentence. The tone of speech set a precedent that the rest would follow,” she said.
Vadi said that Mandela also provided leadership after the killing of Chris Hani, bringing calm to a highly tense situation while providing another example that Kathrada noted of their time in prison at Robben Island.
“Mandela provided leadership by never demanding preferential treatment. In prison for example, Mandela on one occassion even washed out the toilet buckets of other prisoners who were ill,”
Madiba touched millions of lives and received dozens of awards for his peace efforts.
One can find the Nelson Mandela Drive in Bloemfontein, Café Mandela in Copehagen, and Madiba Restaurant in Brooklyn, in New York.
These are just examples of hundreds of roads, buildings, hospitals and other monuments named after him.
La Grange and Vadi conclude by noting how one could fulfil Mandela’s legacy and continue to be the rainbow nation in which he and others fought for.
“We cannot truly fulfill Mandela’s legacy unless every child goes to bed with a full stomach, has proper textbooks, can travel safely to a nearby school and can have proper education before returning to a safe home and community. When this is achieved than I think we will be truly living up to Madiba’s legacy,” said Vadi.
Moeketsi Mogotsi/Courant News