Nelson Mandela Passes

Endearingly called Tata Madiba (Tata means 'father' in Xhosa; Madiba is his clan name) by South Africans--even people who have never been to Africa--Nelson Mandela passed away Thursday night, 5 Dec 2013 before 9 pm South African Standard Time. President Jacob Zuma made the public announcement before midnight. Oddly enough, that meant that many South Africans found out after those in the Americas, who heard the news at 2 pm or earlier.
I picked up our workers at 7 am on Friday. Chester got into the truck. After saying good morning he told me Mandela had passed. He himself had been woken up at 4 am by a friend who told him. I immediately turned on the radio. Radio 2000 had (and continues to have) continuous coverage. Jacaranda had some personal reflections mixed with songs that commemorated Madiba or else complemented his life and passing. Case in point was hearing Elton John's 'A Candle in the Wind'. It was chilling to hear that song in regard to Mandela.
Other reports were that Madela's Aparteid-era house on Vilikazi Street in Orlando West (pictured above) was flooded with mourners and singers, pilgrimaging there to fill it with flowers and gratitude. The radio stations put many of these spontaneous choirs on air for all to hear. The most beautiful song I've heard yet was 'Madiba'  by Kajanini. The songs have been many.
A photograph of Mandela in the center of his Vilikazi home.

Interviews and words of reaction and appreciation were read from South African-born Charlize Theron,  President Obama, his revolutionary advisor Fidel Castro, China's President Xi Jinping, and many, many locals who had met him or worked with him. One of the longest eulogies on the radio yesterday was from Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who praised him for accomplishing freedom with such magnanimous, graceful character that insisted on reconciliation and forgiveness, which redeemed his angry, terrorist past. 

The radio announcers couldn't stop mentioning his crowning moment, immortalized in the film 'Invictus', where he attended the 1995 South African-hosted Rugby World Cup as an action of unity for the nation, hoping that some of the wounds between whites and blacks would be healed through inclusive sport.

Myself, Tom Millay, Star Tiko-Okoye, Zach Dietrich, Daniel Patterson
Another story that hit me as a connection to Madiba I hadn't realized before, was one connected to his later work. He founded the Nelson Mandela Foundation in 1999 after his presidency. Its main focus was on HIV/AIDS awareness as 10% of the South African population was HIV+ at that time. Mandela had also lost a son to AIDS. This was one of the issues he wished he had focused on more during his term. His foundation pushed public awareness campaigns so the stigma would be lessened, people would get tested, and then would use retroviral medications. 

When I was at Baylor, many of my friends got me to join a rally for HIV awareness. I wore an orange shirt all day as I went from class to class across campus. It proclaimed 'HIV+, Educate Yourself'. I didn't think much of it then. It was more a favor to my friends. But it is heartening to know now that I was continuing Madiba's work, that he would have been proud.

Checking out at the agriculture supply store NTK yesterday, I asked the Afrikaaner woman who was ringing everything up what she thought about his passing. She said she didn't want to talk about it because she'd get too argumentative, but conceded that people want to talk about all the good things he did and not remember all the bad. I turned to the black woman who had helped me retrieve my merchandise and asked her how she felt today. Her mood was heavy, but hopeful. She felt like King David when he prayed and fasted for his son to be healed, but who died. "Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again?," she quoted David. No, she wasn't going to fast like others were doing. There would be no feast either. Nor did she know of any memorials in town to attend. She solely looked forward to the day when she would go to him, after she's passed, and meet him for the first time in heaven.

This is the heart-felt connection all Africans, and the oppressed across the world, have with Mandela. He was the symbol of freedom and change. Sarafina no longer sings that freedom is coming tomorrow, for Mandela has brought it. Freedom is here, and our job is to keep it so.

Gardens and view of Pretoria from front of the Union Buildings
Union Buildings

To be here during this time in the history of our world, to see the passing of this global icon, is monumental. Tomorrow, Zuma has asked for everyone to go to their places of worship to pray for Madela and his family, a national day of prayer and reflection. Next week his body will be open to public viewing at the Union Buildings, 12-13 Dec, South Africa's center of government in Pretoria. The ANC-organized state funeral will be Sunday, 15 Dec, at his hometown of Qunu, Eastern Cape, in the former Transkei homeland.

To celebrate Mandela, here are a couple videos. One is Stevie Wonder singing his Happy Birthday song for Nelson Mandela Day in 2009.

Live from Harare, Zimbabwe in 1987, Paul Simon sings with Hugh Masakela, 'Bring Him Back Home', as part of the Graceland tour:

More on Mandela and his legacy:
The Mail and Guardian's Nelson Mandela Tribute Site
The BBC's Nelson Mandela's Life Timeline
CNN's Funeral Schedule


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