BIRD’S EYE: A view of Nelson Mandela’s memorial from the top tier of FNB stadium where this reporter met Junior. Photo: Mfuneko Toyana

Nelson Mandela had a genuine, well-documented soft-spot for young children. In them, he saw an innocence untainted by the wrongs of the adult world, as well hope for the future of our country. On Tuesday, one young boy named Junior attended his memorial, while this older boy watched on.

It all started with a pen that slid down between the sodden aisles of orange flip-seats. The finale: a makeshift safety belt fashioned from an ANC scarf, at about the same time Brazilian president Dilma Russeff took to the podium and the PA system really went south …

Seated on the uppermost tier of FNB stadium, sheltered from the pouring rain by the cavernous mouth of the concrete calabash, little Junior’s exuberance mirrored that of the small battalion of Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), on the opposite end of the stadium.

Both could not be contained, but only the latter irked MC Cyril Ramaphosa to the point of clenched-teeth madness.

Junior’s mother, fearing her son would skip over the ledge, and heading paternal anxieties of a fellow mourner that young Junior would “follow Mandela to the grave”, promptly restrained her son by using her black, green and gold scarf to bind him to the orange chair.

Problem solved.

When a different section of the crowd, this time clad in South African Defense Force (SANDF) fatigues, breached acceptable levels of raucousness by chanting “siyaya ngomkhonto wesizwe (we go forth with the spear of the nation)”, Junior took Ramaphosa’s silence as invitation.

He co-opted his sister into finger-counting the soldiers, as if breathing in the sight of bravery.  Consequently, he loosened the scarf around his torso and flung it over his head in a Rambo-style bandana.

There was plenty of seeming non-events around the stadium for the young boy, barely over seven years in age, to feed his wonder. Cameras with jumbo-size lenses led to hand-clapping and earnest discussions with his mother, as well as whispers to his elder sister.

While protocol was being implored on stage, Junior wasted none of his time on formalities.

When “Mandela yoh, my president” rang out during president Hifikepunye Pohamba’s address, Juniour joined in until a flurry of umbrella activity below proved a fatal distraction.

Shortly after, Junior offered me his juice while Ramaphosa again pleaded for discipline. Had Ramaphosa’s finger-wagging inadvertently led to this act of kindness? Or was this instinctual defiance?

Only Junior knows.

A closed-eye game. Junior is inventor and sole participant, spinning round and resting a tiny index finger on a random stranger.

“Hayi maan basemsebenzini (Stop that they’re working ),” scolds his mother.

Junior, in my direction, retorts: “Kamampela usemsebenzini (Really you’re working)?”

The answer leads to another game. Junior points out to his mother everyone he spots doing the frenetic notepad scribble, asking: “Mama, naloya? Bheka mama, naloya. Naloya?” (Mom, him too? Look mom, him too? Him too?)

However, and unfortunately, this eye for obscure detail is not destined for a newsroom and carpal tunnel syndrome.

“Ngifuna ukhuba yipoyisa ngibambe abotsotsi (I want to be a policeman and catch bad guys),” Junior says.

The pen he rescued from a shallow puddle symbolised nothing. Except, perhaps, plain simple good will, and a life lived in wonder of the world around him.

Junior. Mandela. Junior Mandela? One can only hope.


WitsVuvuzela. South Africans drown Mandela sorrows in boos. December 10, 2013