This week’s story has nothing to do with property. Given the events of the past week, I chose rather to pay tribute in my own small way to one of the greatest men the world has ever known. I am of course referring to Nelson Mandela who passed away on 5 December.
Watching the incredible outpouring of love and affection that has occurred on a global scale in the wake of Mandela’s death, I couldn’t help but look back and reminisce about the way in which he touched my own life over the years.
I was only seven years old when Mandela was released from prison. I knew nothing about politics and even less about apartheid. The fact that colour was not an issue in my house also blinded me to such issues. Oddly enough, although clueless about what was happening on the world stage, I do remember the day Mandela was released like it was yesterday. It was a hot day and my brother and I were playing outside in the pool. My parents called us inside to watch a report being aired on TV and said: “Watch this. This is history in the making.” As I recall, I couldn’t understand why everyone was making such a fuss about a black man walking down a road. Bored, my brother and I went back outside to play. If only I’d known.
As the years went by and the layers of secrecy regarding South Africa’s policies and activists were peeled back, I learned more about Mandela and his incredible story. I remember watching the first democratic elections with fascination and was hugely impressed with the way in which Mandela conducted himself throughout his Presidency.
However, as is the case with many people, it was not the public policies or initiatives or awards associated with Mandela that stands out the most in my memory. It’s my own brief, personal experience that I will never forget.
The year was 1999 – the last of Mandela’s presidency. I was at school when a rather frazzled voice announced over the speaker system that the President was en route to pay an impromptu visit to our school and that everyone was to make their way to the school stands. “Oh, and pick up any litter you come across,” the slightly panicky voice added.
Litter picked up and blazers donned, everyone waited expectantly for Mandela to arrive. Not long after everyone had gathered, two or three plain, black cars pulled into the school grounds. True to form there was no form of pretence. Bar the fact that the cars were in convoy and were identical, there was no hint of the person being transported. There was no blue light brigade and neither did 30 beefy bodyguards dressed in expensive suits spill out to form a defensive circle. Mandela emerged, dressed in a simple, dark suit along with one or two assistants and took up position at a makeshift podium the school had erected.
His message was simple. In a nutshell, he relayed how he had heard that there was a school in the area he was passing through that had a good reputation and he wanted to pass on a message of encouragement. He told us never to underestimate the importance of education and to keep up the good work. Needless to say he inspired me to do just that. At the end of his speech, two brave girls from my year took the opportunity to shake Mandela’s hand. Looking back at that day, I wish I had too.
Although Mandela probably spent less than half an hour at our school, he made an impact that will last a lifetime. To this day my friends recall that golden afternoon when Mandela took time out of his undoubtedly busy schedule to address a few hundred students. Not to gain any political points or to be seen to be doing the right thing (there were no photographers or journalists around) but simply because he felt it was the right thing to do.
Such acts typify Mandela’s legacy and it for this reason that millions of people around the world now mourn him. And deservedly so. As Barack Obama put it, we will not see the likes of Mandela again. Rest in peace Madiba. Gone but never forgotten.