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Mandela and Me. A homage to Nelson Mandela

Dec 7 • 8881 views • 4 Comments on Mandela and Me. A homage to Nelson Mandela Cape Town, Johannesburg, South Africa

Mandela and Me. A homage to Nelson Mandela

This time last year, I was too sick with Malaria to pay homage to Nelson Mandela.

Crying over his obituaries made me feel even more sorry for myself – but I owe Mandela so much.

South Africa politicised me. It was the Anti-Apartheid Movement of the 1980s that made me decide to study politics at SOAS (the School of Oriental and African Studies) at the University of London. That made real my desire to come and live in Africa, a dream it took me too many years to fulfil.

anti apartheid march Trafalgar Square London

Back in the day – the Student Muzungu – at Trafalgar Square in London. The South African High Commission is in Trafalgar Square, making the square the main site for anti apartheid demonstrations for decades.

Mandela was freed while I was a student at SOAS. We couldn’t wait to celebrate his freedom: just a few weeks after his release, the Awesome Man Himself appeared onstage at the now defunct Wembley Stadium – to thank the world for helping secure his release, and telling us to continue exerting pressure for the end of Apartheid.

‘Free… Nelson… Mandela!’ We sang for the thousandth time … and there Mandela was, in the flesh.

How British pop song helped free Nelson Mandela.

Top Ten Songs About Nelson Mandela

It was around this time that I made my first enquiry to VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas). “Call us again in a few years,” they said – I had little work (or life) experience – and I shelved my plans to volunteer in Africa.

My then-flatmate Holly was to move to South Africa with VSO before me – and is still there 15 years later. Visits to South Africa ‘close the circle’ for me: stays with Holly in Johannesburg give us a chance to relive our shared memories of Mandela’s release and our experiences as VSO volunteers in sub Saharan Africa. Spending World Aids Day in South Africa with her was another pivotal moment.

My pilgrimage to Mandela’s Robben Island cell was a longed-for moment.

Robben Island Mandela's cell keyhole. tour

Mandela and Me. A homage to Nelson Mandela. The keyhole to Mandela’s prison cell on Robben Island.

Nelson Mandela spent nearly two decades on the other side of this metal gaol gate. Isn’t it uncanny how the outline of the African continent has emerged as the paint has chipped away? How many thousands of times did the key turn in that lock? The Robben Island tour (courtesy of previous Robben Island inmates who were incarcerated at the same time as Mandela and other heroes of the movement such as Steve Biko) is humbling beyond words.

Rereading Mandela’s obituaries, a few facts jumped out at me:

– He left power voluntarily, when his presidential term was up. He played by the rules, unlike so many African rulers who want to stay in power forever.

– Mandela stayed on the United States ‘terror watch list’ until July 1, 1988 when he was 80 years old and coming to the end of his presidency. Really? It just beggars belief now.

– Mandela visited Uganda on July 5, 1990, just five months after his release from prison. Mandela chose Uganda as the first African country outside South Africa to visit.

From student days drinking Snakebite in the ‘Nelson Mandela bar’ to SOAS, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Uganda, Mandela remains an inspiration to me:

On writing, he wrote to one of his daughters:

“Writing is a prestigious profession which puts one right into the centre of the world and, to remain on top, one has to work really hard, the aim being a good and original theme, simplicity in expression and the use of the irreplaceable word.”

Robben Island Nelson Mandela. tour. jpg

Robben Island Nelson Mandela tour

Who can possibly count the millions – billions? – of people’s lives affected by this great man. RIP Madiba, the world remains a better place for you having been in it.

What effect did Nelson Mandela have on your life?

Free Nelson Mandela

21 years in captivity,

Shoes too small to fit his feet,

His body abused but his mind is still free,

Are you so blind that you cannot see?

I said: Free Nelson Mandela,

I’m begging you,

Free Nelson Mandela.

On the first anniversary of his death, feel free to share your thoughts.

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4 Responses to Mandela and Me. A homage to Nelson Mandela

  1. Chris/PA says:

    Made me think for a change. Are you sure he has passed away? He still seems here to me. Perhaps, as they say, he is just in the next room. Its how it feels and how your piece reached me. Top job, Cha!

    • the muzungu says:

      Hi Pa, I know what you mean, it is quite weird to write about Mandela’s death. He will always be here in spirit, won’t he?
      I had fun watching the old 80s videos while I was researching this blog. Do you like the photo of me as a student? (Cringe – but funny)! x x

  2. Clare says:

    Loved all you said about Mandela. He remains my role model too. Fascinated to read your blog. I first went to Uganda in 1964 to nurse. We had so much in our world. I just wanted to help. I met a guy from Salford running a rural trade school. We married and our 3 sons were born there. We had to leave, for their safety, end of 1972. We made a home back in Britain. Our youngest son went to SOAS in late 80s then spent 14 yrs working on the Continent of Africa. My husband and I took early retirement in 1998 and went back to Uganda as VSOs with Hospice Uganda, for 2years. We return every year to Mbarara, our Ugandan home. Not bricks and mortar, but the people and the Ankole Hills. We celebrated our Silver wedding anniversary there with our whole family and a few close friends. Love hearing of the development in tourism Sorry to write so much.

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