Shandukani Mulaudzi writes of the day she finally saw Nelson Mandela – as his body lay in state in Pretoria, South Africa.
As a child I had always wanted to meet Nelson Mandela. I heard about him shaking children’s hands and smiling at them. Some of my classmates had been fortunate enough to meet him and I too longed for the moment where his hand would meet mine and I would be able to brag that I had met a real life hero.
In 1997 we moved to Arcadia and the Union Buildings were right up the road. I assumed Mandela lived there and imagined that one day I would see him driving out and he would at least wave at me. It didn’t happen, he left the presidency and I grew up. I became “too cool for school” and became satisfied with admiring his greatness from afar.[pullquote align=”right”]”It’s over. Mandela is really gone”[/pullquote]
I finally saw him today and not in the way that I had once hoped for. His smile was wiped off his face and he couldn’t hold my hand nor could I hold his. The colour had been drained off his face and he looked more grey than brown. His face looked like clay. I was sad and what hurt the most was that I couldn’t even see his face fully because I am a little bit too short. I saw enough though. He looked peaceful and that comforted me.
As I walked away from the casket I saw officials on the other side holding out tissues for those who were crying. I did not cry – well at least not immediately.[pullquote align=”left”]”You left us in the dark. We are powerless.” [/pullquote]
I went down the stairs from the amphitheatre in search of someone who would tell me how they felt about seeing his body lying there. I wanted to know how it felt for them to know that he had breathed his last breath and would no longer be able to share the wisdom and teachings he was known for.
As I walked I overheard a man say: “Ja ne! Go fedile. O tsamaile ka nnete Mandela” (It’s over. Mandela is really gone).
That was when the finality of it all dawned on me. I watched other journalists scramble to speak to people and ask them questions. I had never seen a corpse before this and I needed a moment. Just as I was about to go find a corner where I could bury my face in my dress a man approached me asking for something.
He was holding his crutch in one hand and an envelope in the other. His ANC shirt sparked my interest and I decided to ask him how he was feeling. He told me that for the first time in his life he saw a corpse and cried.
He told me his name is Joseph Tekela and he is the chairman of the Disability Forum in Qwa-Qwa. He and his colleagues travelled to Johannesburg on September 4 this year to pray for Mandela and wish him well. They had hoped he would get better because they still needed him.
Tekela read his card to me. Some of the words were:
“We thought he would fight for us for the implementation of a two-percent of disability employment. We thought he would fight for us for being included for RDP beneficiary for disability in Qwa-Qwa. Your death crushes our hopes of getting what we deserve. You left us in the dark. We are powerless.”
I left the Union Buildings after speaking to Tekela. His story broke my heart and it was then that I thanked the Lord for my sunglasses which hid the tears that were now welling up in my eyes.
I overcame my fear of seeing a dead body to pay my final respects to a man who gave his life to a cause he so strongly believed in. Tata Rolihlahla Mandela was a beacon of hope for all and even though he had not been involved in politics for years many still saw him as the man who would save them from the injustices they still face in our country.
Today I saw him for the first time and I said goodbye to him too. The moment was brief and perhaps a little traumatic but it was well worth it.
R.I.P. Nelson Mandela.