A young boy enjoys a cupcake at a Wits University celebration to mark Nelson Mandela’s 94th birthday. Cupcakes were sold to raise money for the Wits Paediatric Fund. Photo: Lisa Golden and Kirsti Buick

A diverse group of about 200 people gathered at Wits University’s Origins Centre on July 18 to mark Mandela Day. Here are the voices of five people who attended the event:

Nathalie Night

Nathalie Knight is the curator of the Mandela @ 94 exhibition at the Origins Centre. She met Mandela, quite by chance, at the Hyde Park Shopping Centre where she used to have a gallery.

Click here to listen to Knight’s story.

Shelley Elk

Shelley Elk studied art at Wits several years ago. In the late 1990s, she did a series of three paintings based on Mandela’s book Long Walk to Freedom. Her pieces – Birth of Royalty, The Struggle and New Nation – form part of the Mandela @ 94 exhibition.

An Italian company used these designs for a series of limited edition luxury pens.

Elk didn’t get paid for her work but was told that some of the proceeds from the sale of the pens would benefit one of Mandela’s charities.

“I’ve tried in vain to find out which one it is. There are question marks. And that left me feeling a little sad. Because in my heart I did this as a tribute … I met with Advocate George Bizos, and his team team did an investigation to find out if these projects were linked to the Mandela Foundation. But I generally think in my heart that artists are quite idealistic and sometimes naïve … People feel a lot of love towards Mandela. I mean, I did the pens out of love for him, you know. Not to take advantage of his name or anything. Sometimes you naïvely get caught up in something and you have no idea what’s going on. Maybe that’s just my own failing”.

Jacqueline Goba

Jacqueline Goba is a cleaner at the Origins Centre. She remembers the day Mandela was released from prison in February 1990.

“I was very happy, screaming, overjoyed, ja. We even took meat from the fridge and did a little braai! (She laughs). I love Tata very much!”

Thomas Baloyi

Thomas Baloyi is a garden maintenance worker at Wits. He watched the brief Mandela Day concert which accompanied the art exhibition at the Origins Centre because he is a big fan of the former president. He remembers where he was when Mandela walked out of the prison gates.

“I was at Limpopo, looking at the TV. When he raised his hand, I was very, very excited. I was so happy because it was my first time to see his face on a screen. I used to hear people: ‘There is Mandela. He goes to jail for we people, we blacks, to be free.’ So when I look at the TV, I saw his face, I was very, very happy. I love Tata. He take us out from the Babylon to Israel, you know. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t know where I would be today.”

Saurav Tiwari

Saurav Tiwari is from New Delhi, India. He started working for Wits University six months ago. He arrived at the Origins Centre as workers were packing up equipment after the Mandela Day celebration. Although Tiwari was disappointed to have missed the festivities, he was happy to share his thoughts on Mandela as an international icon.

“For so many people, not just South Africans, Mandela has been such an inspiration, the way he has fought the apartheid government … And not just the revolution. If you put the whole revolution aside and look at the person, he has been such an inspiration, how simple … how loving … how generous … and how pleasant a person can be. Because I think today we are missing and we need people with a pleasant nature, with pleasantness in their voice, pleasantness in their thoughts. Because we have so much hatred and rage going around, and he could be an inspiration for us”.