I have no doubt that in years to come, we will ask each other – where were you when you heard about Mandela’s passing? I will never forget where I was. I had gone to bed early on Thursday evening and so had no warning of what was to come.
I woke up early on Friday morning, Walter was at gym and Ava and Hannah were still sleeping, I was drinking coffee and scanning through my Face Book feed. Now no offence my FB friends, but Face Book users are notorious for being somewhat behind the news, sharing hoaxes etc, so when I started seeing all the R.I.P Madiba updates, I immediately checked my Twitter timeline as Twitter is a far more reliable (at times) news source!
I was numb. Too shocked to process what I was reading. I couldn’t believe it was true. Our Tata Madiba, The Black Pimpernel, the Father of our nation, our national hero was gone. His long walk to freedom was over and it was too much for me to bare.
Ironically, we had our year end function scheduled for Friday at Liliesleaf Farm! It was extraordinarily special to be there on Friday. To know that I was somewhere where my hero had once walked. And I started thinking about iconic Mandela moments for me personally.
I come from a politically inclined family, my great grandfather was a government agitator and anti-apartheid activist. He was exiled to Saint Helena island and if it hadn’t been for my great grandmothers friendship with Jan Smuts and his intervention, he would have spent the rest of his life in exile. As it is, he was allowed to stay in South Africa, but was never allowed to work again for the remainder of his life. There are many more family stories like this but now is not the time to share them.
I remember the day in February 1990 of Mandela’s release, I remember where I was, I remember knowing I was witnessing something that would change our country forever, I was in matric and just shy of my 18th birthday. I remember the first time I got to legally vote, it was in the referendum. I remember our first democratic election, the second time I ever voted, I remember the elation and the sense of unity as everyone stood in line, all races, to cast their votes.
And now I will remember where I was when I heard the news of Madiba’s passing.
Ava stunned us yesterday. She asked us yesterday morning, while we were getting ready to head out to Madiba’s Houghton home to pay our respects, who he was and why everyone is talking about him so much. It’s a very difficult thing to explain to a 4 year old, we did the best we could and explained in the simplest of terms….
A long time ago, white people wanted to keep the best of our country for themselves, they wanted black, white and brown people to be kept separate, but, Mr Mandela (this is what Ava calls him) did not agree with this. He felt that all people should live freely, equally and together and because of his beliefs, he was sent to prison for a very long time and after a very long time, when he was set free, he went about making it so that everyone in our country could be free and live together no matter their colour.
I see Ava contemplate this for a while… then she says: So daddy is white and mommy is white and Hannah is black and I’m white. *deep breath* this is the first time we’ve had to address the race issue with Ava. So gently we corrected her and explained that both mommy and daddy had white mommy’s and daddy’s so yes, we are white, but Hannah is not black and Ava is not white, that they both had one white birth parent and one brown birth parents which means that they are also both brown.
Ava has spent a lot of time contemplating all of this. She has asked LOTS of questions since yesterday on this issue and particularly Mr Mandela. She has wanted to know if he was angry with white people and if he made white people go to jail for what they did to him. She has asked us to explain why white people wanted everyone to live separately. It has been fascinating to watch the pieces of her puzzle, of her heritage, start to slowly fall, one piece at a time into place.
Walter and I decided to take our girls to pay our respects at Madiba’s house in Hougton yesterday. If it weren’t for his long walk to freedom and so many like him, my family would not exist today. Ava and Hannah’s birth parents relationships would have been outlawed, we would never have been allowed to adopt them and certainly, living as a mixed race family would have been impossible given the “whites only” signs that peppered our country in the 1980’s! Not to mention the race classification and where my girls would have fallen into that.
Yesterday was a really powerful experience, I must say, I had goosies the entire time, with tears brimming in my eyes. It has been so incredibly special to see that Madiba’s passing seems to have reunited our nation. It was extra special to walk through the crowds with my brown children and know that we are a symbol of what he fought for!
And this is when I started to cry, make sure you turn your volume up!
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