OPINION: First hello, final goodbye

Shandukani Mulaudzi writes of the day she finally saw Nelson Mandela – as his body lay in state in Pretoria, South Africa. 

ShanduAs 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.


Joseph Tekela travelled from Qwa-Qwa to bid Mandela a final farewell. Photo: Shandukani Mulaudzi.

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.


Junior Mandela?


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

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).”