Good morning, South Africa.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’ve been waking up lately with a heavy feeling in my chest, and then reach for my phone to see if Tata has finally passed. I am immediately assailed by a hundred different feelings – guilt at the maudlin curiosity I can’t seem to escape about his health, relief that he is with us, grief that his suffering isn’t at an end, relief that the nation is still not going to grieve, anger at how badly the government is handling the media, disgust at the way some sections of the media are handling the situation.
There is no “right” way to feel at the passing of a legend. We have grieved before. We have lost Sisulu, Biko, Tambo, Hani. We have lost people that we were barely aware of, because so much of our history was kept from us during the Apartheid years.
This feels different, though, because Madiba WAS different. He was not just a leader, he was a human being. We felt as if we knew him, as arrogant as that sounds. We knew he was flawed, as all people are, and yet we could forgive those flaws, even though we struggle to forgive them in others. He cheered with us at sporting matches, danced with us at rock concerts. We watched him become angry, be naughty, we watched his pain through his divorce, celebrated the love he found in his marriage to Graca.
For twenty years he was a reminder to us that we have it within us to be great. We can forgive. We can love. We can rise above those who want to put us down. We can wear bright shirts when others are dressed in grey, and dance when others are standing around trying to be proper. We can smile from ear to ear, and wave our hats above our heads and show the world what it is to be truly, deeply happy.
Those are the lessons I aim to take from Madiba’s life. I am going to try, every day, to remember that he loved South Africa and South Africans. I’m going to try to be more tolerant of those with different views, lead a life of tolerance, non-racialism and joy, and treat other South Africans as he would : by making them aspire to be better, stronger people.
Thank you, Tata, for the life lessons. When I think of you, it will always be of you dancing, bright shirt shimmying under the spotlight, fists moving in time with your feet, and your biggest, brightest smile beaming out at the whole world.