Meeting Mandela: memories of joy and despair

 Doris Malinga, a 70 year-old resident of Kliptown, Johannesburg recounts her memories of Nelson Mandela.

Seventy year-old Doris Malinga remembers more than one version of her first meeting with Nelson Mandela. She describes each with such faithfulness to the joy and the despair of the experiences that you can hardly dispute that both ‘first times’ really did occur. A case of Madiba magic? Perhaps.

“uMandela ngamthintha kwathi ngakusasa kwakhona ngawina… angazi besi dlalani ngaleso skhathi… (short pause) Oh ya! Amahashi! (joyous guffaw) Lapha eTurfontein. Ngawina”. (I touched Mandela’s hand, and the next day I won … I don’t remember what we were playing in those days. Oh yes! Horses! In Turfontein. I won.)

Standing between the side buildings and the main hall of a now mostly empty Regina Mundi Catholic Church, in a sliver of brave sunshine, Doris Malinga recounts her experiences of Nelson Mandela as if watching them flicker across the screen of memory for the first time. Mandela banner2

“Bagcwele amambhunu la ngaphandle, sabalekela la eRegina Mundi. Silele ngezisu abokhile amabhunu nezinja ngaphandle… 1976!”. (A lot of Boers where outside, we ran and hid here in the Regina Mundi church. we lay flat on our stomachs while the Boers waited for us outside with their dogs … 1976!)

This past Sunday, three days after Mandela’s passing, Doris attended a service at the church dedicated to the late, great statesman.

In a corner to the right of the pulpit, a large wood-framed portrait of grey-haired “Tata” leaned against the wall, watching as joy and despair rippled through the congregation dressed in powder-blue and others in deep-purple uniforms.

Doris said pride rose up inside of her as she sat in the pews and listened to the pastor speak of Mandela’s life and work.

Her own path to this famous church, she said, was paved in the black, gold and green colours of Mandela’s ANC.

[pullquote align=”right”]”I’m going to wear ANC because Mandela saved us when the Boers were after us.”[/pullquote]

She explained that years after the days of seeking refuge away from apartheid police in the church, she eventually “gave herself to Roma”, at around the same time as Mandela’s release from prison in 1990.

A thumb-and-pinky telephone helps her explain why she came to the service dressed head to toe in ANC regalia rather than the required uniform of a long-time member of the congregation.

“Namhla angeke ngigqoke ijoin mina (Today I’m not going to wear uniform),” she said re-enacting her conversation with a fellow member. “Ngizogqoka iANC ngoba uMandela wasi kipha amabhunu asigijimisa. uMandela ngiyamgqokela (I’m going to wear ANC because Mandela saved us when the Boers were after us. I’m wearing this for Mandela).”

So proud of her outfit, Doris insists on the “best” picture being taken of it adjusting it with bright-coloured cloths and scarves from a seemingly bottomless black plastic bag at her side, to obtain a verisimilitude with the reverence she expresses.

Doris Malinga remembers the times she met Nelson Mandela. Photo: Dinesh Balliah.

Doris Malinga remembers the times she met Nelson Mandela. Photo: Dinesh Balliah.

A little later, with a gift of two queen cakes and a styrofoam cup of sherbet-orange juice, Doris recalls the other version of her first encounter with Nelson Mandela.

“I had two sons. One was an ANC member. Both died during apartheid. One was shot near Orlando Station by police on his way back from school … The other was killed near Kliptown. His body was thrown into that river (the Kliprivier).”

One of her late sons left behind a young boy-child, whom Doris raised. He is now 20 years-old.The previous proud overflow of joy slows as despair tinges Doris’s voice.

She remembers a day when she knocked off work in town and went to collect her grandson from a near-by daycare center. She took him to Luthuli House, the ANC headquarters on Sauer street, where Mandela was addressing a large crowd.

“Bengimuphethe emahlombe. Kugcwele kuthe! uMandela wambona. Wamuthata wambekha emahlombeni akhe. (I had him on my shoulders. It was jam packed. Mandela saw him. He took him and hoisted him onto his shoulders).”