A LOVE LETTER TO TATA MANDELA

lindiweA LETTER TO TATA NELSON MANDELA

From  your forgotten grand-daughter.

Dear Tata

Not sure where to start – so much has been said about you from all corners of the world by those who knew you, claimed to know you and from everyone who admired you around the world. Anyone who has a voice has said their piece, claimed a piece of you and ripped you apart into all kinds of objects and mementos, from bank notes to t-shirts, skirts, shops, street names, township names, shopping malls, even the ground I walk on. Tata you truly are legendary.   I have watched silently from a distance, jealous of course of all the time that these people got to spend with you.  I am hurting so much – because I have been so angry with you for a very long time, because I never understood you, I never understood why you took the decisions you did, why you spent so much time with everyone else but me. But now I understand, even though it hurts to admit, that they needed you more than I did.  For the past ten days I have gone through all manner of  emotions imaginable, from anger, sadness, joy, indifference, pain, disgust, disbelief, madness, grief, delirium you name it.  I felt as if once again I have been  silenced; my voice drowned out by the loud  trumpets  announcing your  passing  which  screeched  from every imaginable crevice of this country, I have Mandela coming out of my pores.  People can be so cruel when they think they are the only ones in pain. Everyone knows so much more about you, everybody knows what you think, how you felt, how you would want them to think to feel about everything. I have been trying to run away from you, but you are every-where – I go.  Everywhere I look. The radio has been all about you, TV, newspapers, conversations, street lamps and post. Someone said I should look for you, but now it seems I don’t have to look anymore for you. You are everywhere I go.  Maybe you’ve been trying to get my attention and what a way to do it.  You’ve  got my full attention now.

Behind the Rainbow.

Can you imagine I had to become a journalist just so I could be near you?  Close to you, follow you around? Be in your presence?  I laugh about it sometimes. I thought everyone else was crazy for claiming you as their father, grandfather, their leader, their liberator, their this and that. How could one single living human being be everything to everyone? I still struggle to remain true to myself let alone the entire universe.  But I guess I was the crazy one for refusing to see  the truth. I remember our brief conversation about politics. I was still angry with you then, my anger masked by a mix of admiration fear, awe and sadness.  I remember once I was forced no, let me say coerced into a conversation about you with Cornel West. He asked me about you and I told him and everyone who could listen that I didn’t care about you. That you were nothing to me, in some ways it was true in others in was a complete and utter lie because I loved you, love you now more than the first time I knew that your name was not Manelo.  And then came that time when you asked me if I had registered to vote and I said yes. You asked me who I would vote for.  I knew you were joking with me, but I didn’t have a sense of humour at the time. I couldn’t imagine why on earth you would want to discuss such private family matters in front of all those people when you knew very well that I couldn’t be a card-carrying member of any political party because of my job.  But thank you for saving me from myself.  You shielded me and made it a huge joke; everyone says you were such a joker in your later years.

Today I am filled with gratitude, because even though we never had a normal grandfather and granddaughter relationship, even though I spent the past 32 years living in your shadow, you were still with me everywhere I went.  You opened doors for me everywhere I went, just by your name.  Where ever I travelled when people heard that I was from “Mandela land” they would go out of their way to make me comfortable and to feel at home. You have shielded me in war zones, in dangerous places and saved  me more than once from myself.   In 2008 I took off my journalist jacket and decided to follow you to London at the 46664 AIDs Benefit Concert in Hyde Park London, I was so proud of what you tried to do. It was your  last public appearance and I was there among the roaring crowds as myself, off duty. I thought it was so sweet how you protected Amy Winehouse and held her hand through a dark period in her life. I fell in love with you then, how gentle you had grown to be.  Last year when you were admitted to hospital, I grieved for you, I shaved my hair and decided to leave this country because I just couldn’t imagine living here without you. I arrived in Dakar, Senegal,  naked, to everyone I sounded Senegalese, but one man took one look at me and said – You look like Mandela. I laughed for days, because in all my living years, no-one has ever said that to me – you found me in a place of utter hopelessness. When things didn’t work out I found myself back here again in this country I love so much, that has brought out the worst and best of me. I didn’t understand why. Now I know that I needed to be home for such a time as this. I was even more frustrated when journalism couldn’t bring me any nearer to your bed-side, at your home in Houghton, I felt like an outsider looking in, invisible. But now I understand that it was meant to be this way, how can a granddaughter report on the passing of their grandfather? I can be so silly sometimes.

It is a bitter-sweet moment for me, Tata,  in the past ten days I learnt so much about you, it is as if you were showing me again who you are, not anyone’s version of you, but really who you are. How it was for you when you were barred from attending the signing of the 1955 freedom charter, the drawing up of which you worked so hard to achieve.  I began to understand in real terms how difficult it must have been to face your enemy and forgive them, sit with them at the negotiating table, to reach out to someone you knew  hated you and would kill you given the chance. You taught me what it is to fight – hatred with love, because love is the only thing that saves. Through the work of Cheryl Pillay, you showed me your  ideas of restorative justice – how love and forgiveness is the only thing that can turn someone around, the only thing that can change people’s minds and hearts. Unconditional love.   You showed me that even though at times everything and everyone may seem to be against you, if you hold on to love things do work out in the end. And oh so Beautifully too. Violence has never and will never be the answer, I am so glad you changed your mind about that too while in prison. So proud of you.

Today I have so much to be grateful for, not only have I met the man of my dreams, the one I asked for, a man who loves music, who loves art, respects the spirit world and thinks with his heart, I am also starting a new job.   My dreams are coming true at a time when I had given up hope, when I said goodbye to so many of them. My dreams are coming true because you died. And it is a sad reality for me. Thank you for the small stolen moments, when I was so close to you I could hug you.  Thank you for trying to do what was best for everyone, and being  selfless  at a time when you had every right to be selfish.  I know you were just as human as me and that it is only our creator who lifted you to  where you are,  and to who you have become to billions upon billion, imagine!? It it only our creator who could have given you the power and strength to go  against the grain and alone in love, when loving was probably the last thing you wanted to do. Thank you  granddad, Tata, for freedom, now I can come out and be myself again, because I know now that you’ve got my back for real.  I don’t need a picture with you or any proof what so ever –  that you are mine- blood is thicker than water. Your spirit will live on in me and through me and through everyone you’ve touched with your exemplary life. The road ahead will not be easy as you know, but I know  that you are  in a much better place to help me when I need it. Even though I knew it was your time I am still sad that you left, because it was good to know that you were hanging out somewhere having fun. Or that I could meet you one day on assignment.

People kept saying to me, because I can be very timid believe it or not, that confidence comes with knowing who you are. I am glad to finally know who I am.  It brings joy to my tears to know that despite what I thought  you never forgot  me.  That you loved me even when I thought the worst of you.

Did I tell you have a million dollar smile? That melts my heart still today? You do.  I will hold on to that smile.   Apparently I have a million dollar smile too, according to mom. So each time I think of you, I will smile. Because what you have given me is a beautiful gift. I will never stop smiling. Never stop loving.  And I have you and Love to thank for that.

Lala NgoxoloTata.

Ndiyabulela.

Enkosi.

Camagu!

 

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MADIBA’S LEGACY: A FATHERLESS NATION

A boy walks past a mural painted outside former President Nelson Mandela's former home in Alexandra Township. Pic. Reuters/Mujahid Safodien.
A boy walks past a mural painted outside former President Nelson Mandela’s former home in Alexandra Township. Pic. Reuters/Mujahid Safodien.

 “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children” – Nelson Mandela

South Africa Today

South Africa is leading the world in incidents of domestic violence and rape against women and children. According to research by the Medical  Research Council of South Africa (MRC) at least one in three South African men admitted to raping a woman;   at least 144 women report incidents of rape in the country every hour, which  when extrapolated results in  3, 600 reported rape cases a day across the country. Rape, domestic violence and HIV/AIDS,  are largely responsible for an  estimated 3.6 million orphans  in the country, according to figures by Statistics South Africa. “Just under one fifth (19.6%) of all children in South Africa, representing approximately 3.6 million people, are orphaned – half of them due to HIV/AIDS,” said Stats SA in its social profile of vulnerable groups in South Africa from 2002–2010.   These are  causes which former South African President and Nobel Peace prize laureate Nelson Mandela dedicated his life to after stepping down as the first black democratically elected president in 1999.

FAMILY MAN

Despite the negative statistics, there are men who, even under great financial strain are following in Madiba’s footsteps and are taking care of orphaned and vulnerable children. Men like Johannes Majola, a father of three sons and four children he inherited from his late sister.  Majola opened  the Simthembile Homes for children with  intellectual disabilities in Roodepoort South of Johannesburg after being approached by a parent asking him to take care of her child or else she will kill her. “ That broke my heart, I asked myself why she has to kill her” He told BTL “ Single parents face a great challenge, especially those with children with intellectual and physical disabilities,  having to balance work and take care of their children at the same time”  said Majola “ Often they cannot afford to pay and there are not enough homes which cater for physically and intellectually disabled children – I would say the system is failing us” says Majola who runs the home from governments’ disability grants which do not cover the cost of caring for the ten residents at the home.   “Sometimes I have to take food from my own children to give to the residents due to lack of funds”.   Majola  admires Mandela and  calls him his liberator. “ he brought us freedom, liberty and I am following his example of being a father, a protector, a shepherd  who looks after his flock.  Hope and love keep me going” He told BTL “without love you cannot take care of children”.

Majola is not the only man taking care of vulnerable children, Bob Nameng a former street-kid  and an orphan himself, runs centre  for  children in one of the oldest townships in Soweto – Kliptown  -whose living and social conditions have remained almost  unchanged since Mandela’s release from prison.  Nameng told BTL that he works with children because he wants to protect them from the hardship of living on the streets “I didn’t want children to experience the pain of living in the streets like I did, I am an orphan, and I wanted to lead by example, so that other men can see that they too can contribute towards positive change in the country.” He said.  Nameng  has been running the center since the 19 80’s and remembers meeting Mandela before he  led the country through peaceful, multiracial democratic elections and becoming President  in 1994 “When he shook my hand, I felt his powerful energy and knew that  he was a man who is larger than life” He says smiling “Madiba and I share a birthday month (July) and a star sign (cancer) and sometimes I compare myself to him and say if he can do so much – so can I. He has given us a lot and it’s time for us to follow in his footsteps and give children the freedom and space to be children and take care of them”.   Nameng provides free food to an estimated 200 children everyday who come to SKY for food and extra-mural activities in addition to providing shelter to  children who at risk without any support from government. He says the need for more child support is great “we are not doing nearly enough to look after our children, especially girls who are more vulnerable to sexual violent and abuse”

Majola and Nameng share similarities with Mandela.   Nelson Mandela (95)’s iconic status as an anti-apartheid revolutionary activist, liberator, world leader and peace maker came at a great personal cost to himself.  Born in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa on the 18 of July 1918, he lost his father at a very young age. And while serving a life sentence in Robben Island for treason he was refused permission to bury his son who died following a car accident.   He sacrificed raising his own children from two previous marriages with Evelyn Mandela and Winnie Madikizela Mandela, to father a nation through a difficult and complex transition from White- Apartheid –Minority rule to a non-racial democratic South Africa.  In January 2005 he lost his only remaining son Makgatho Mandela, 54, to HIV/AIDs.  Then at age, 86,Mandela was the second only prominent leader in South Africa (the first being IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi) to call for redoubled efforts in the fight against HIV/AIDs.  “Let us give publicity to HIV/AIDS and not hide it, because the only way to make it appear like a normal illness like TB, like cancer, is always to come out and to say somebody has died because of HIV/AIDS. And people will stop regarding it as something extraordinary”   He said during a media briefing at his private residence in Johannesburg.   In 1995, driven by his love for children and a desire to end their suffering, former President Nelson Mandela established the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund (NMCF) and from 1996 to 1998, NMCF successfully mobilized over R36 million to fund over 780 projects, at an average of R40, 000 per project by  giving grants to promoting a humanitarian response to the plight of South Africa‘s children and youth. Yet even those efforts did not reach 17 year old Joy Magubane a resident at the Soweto Kliptown Youth Center who says   Bob Nameng is like Madiba to her  “Well all I can say is tata (Madiba) Madiba did nothing for me, it is  Bob Nameng who is looking after me and making sure  that all my needs are met, he is my mother, my father, my grandpa,  my everything, without him I don’t know where I’ll be.”

THE MESSIAH

But for millions of black South Africans who lived under the oppressive arm of Apartheid like 43 year old Madikhomo Nkgomo,  a married mother of five children, Mandela is the  Messiah.  Madikhomo says Mandela is her Jesus. “My mother was a domestic worker and she worked like a slave. We were not allowed to own homes or a land to build one.  For Nkgomo, now a managers at one of the country’s leading banks,  Apartheid –a racial segregation law enforced across South African in 1948 by then former South African President Hendrik Verwoed as a sign of “Good Neighborliness’ meant that she and her extended family of more than twelve people had to share a two bedroom house in Soshaguve, a black township outside of the country’s Capital city Pretoria. “Things got progressively worse and as children we were all separated. My mother lived in domestic quarters in Johannesburg, while we were moved to different places to live with complete strangers” She told BTL. “ We were all arrested at different points  in our family for trading illegally, we often had to hide in cupboards and under  beds from police who would arrest us if they found us without permits to be in the city” She adds.” I was a slave, my mother was a slave – Mandela is my savior, He is like Jesus to me”

For others Mandela will forever remain an icon of Freedom “I think many people are at a loss for words on how to describe the person of Madiba, he is larger than life – and still today young people don’t understand the real cost of freedom” says Nomvula  Mashoni –Cook referring  to Madiba’s policy of  reconciliation demonstrated through the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings in the late 90’s. There victims and perpetrators of violence and murders under Apartheid testified, apologized and were forgiven while some received financial compensation for their suffering.

In June 2008, Madiba delivered one of his last public speeches during his 90th Birthday 46664 AIDS benefit concert in Hyde Park London, saying “Where there is poverty and sickness, including AIDS, where human beings have been oppressed there is more work to be done. After nearly 90 years of life it is time for new hands, to lift the burdens – It is in your hands now”

And sometimes that change can be as simple as holding a child’s hand.

Mother and Child leaving a rally to raise awareness against women and child abuse in Johannesburg South Africa. Picture - Jedi Ramalapa
Mother and Child leaving a rally to raise awareness against women and child abuse in Johannesburg South Africa. Picture – Jedi Ramalapa

 

THE FIXER: DAY-UNKNOWN

The second coming?
The second coming?

“It’s always impossible until its done” Nelson Mandela

A DAY OF PRAYER AND REFLECTION.

ON SUNDAY – I was at the most famous church in Soweto, Regina Mundi where activists organized, held meetings prayed and were attacked by apartheid police during the 1970s, 80s and 90s The Church has to be rebuilt after it was completely destroyed by Apartheid police in pursuit of comrades. The service was e presided over by Bishop Sebastian Rousow. I spent most of my time outside, catching up with old friends and scouting out potential interviews for my clients . Trying to find the  right people for my people to speak to everyone has a story to tell, everyone’s story is important, but finding the right one out of billions is a skill.  While waiting outside I met tata Patrick, now a very old man. He tells me he has lived in  Rockville  Soweto since 1962, he was part of the Soweto Action Group Committee which was set up following the banning of all non-white political parties in South African, notably the  ANC and PAC.  He tells me with a faraway that police used to stand right where all the media cameras are, surround the church and shoot at people coming out of the church. He was even there when it was built. I can smell the whiff of stale alcohol on his breath. But he tells me that Mandela is a great man. A great tree has fallen he says. If you go to freedom Park which just behind the church you will see there are 95 indigenous trees which have been planted in honour of Mandela each year on his birthday the 18th of July. His son says each time he walks past those trees they represent freedom for him. Long Live they both say. But no one bothers to speak to Patrick. His old and rugged. The media crisscrossed past them waiting for the “big” political and international personalities. There are rumours that Winnie-Madikizela-Mandela might show up at the church, but the rumours are later proven untrue. I also meet Jane Nhlapho who has lived in Rovilled since 1967, and her friend Elizabeth Gwele from Dobsonville another Township in Soweto. They both describe  how police used to frequently surround the church with caspers, mellow yellows, police and army vehicles, and shoot and throw tear-gas at activists locked up inside. Elizabeth told me that, as parents they frequented the church in search of their children, to see if they are okay, still together in one piece.  Jane lost a family member right here at the church, a brother who disappeared – last seen at Regina Mundi Church. It’s pain-full to think about. They were running halter and skelter she says. Not knowing where to go or what to do. We were not free. We had not freedom of anything, movement, speech, anything. She looks as lars tall overwhelming  Master-like figure. “Today I can stand here and speak to you like a fellow human being “she said. And that simply brings me to tears.  I think of My brother Thente.

ROOM 209 – CHIEF ALBERT SISULU FLOOR – SOWETO HOTEL

Later in the day we go to the Soweto Hotel for the NRK team to edit and file their story  of the day. I chose Soweto hotel, because of where it is and it represents with uncanny accuracy the current state of our country.  It embodies in a few kilometres the character of South Africa.  Because the contrasts in South Africa from here can’t be more jarring. Our window is face the Union Road – Shop names have changed but the buildings are still the same buildings from 1955 when more than 3000  South African of all races gathered to sign the freedom charter – a blue print for a democratic South Africa – During the darkest period in my country.

They unanimously declared:

  1. The People Shall Govern
  2. All groups shall have equal rights
  3. The figures shall share in the country’s wealth
  4. The land shall be shared among those who work in it
  5. All shall be equal before the law
  6. All shall enjoy equal human rights
  7. There shall be work and security
  8. The doors of learning and culture shall be opened file and edit and file the story of the day. I choose the Soweto hotel we go back to Soweto …
  9. There shall be houses Security and Comfort
  10. There shall be peace and friendship.

You can have all of the above in South African today. If you have money.Only.

BUT ON MONDAY

To say I’m broken would be an understatement. I am trying to be brave and say it’s okay. I’m here at the media centre as I write this. I imagine how full this room will be tomorrow frantic with journalist filing stories minute after minute, second after second, and I won’t be a part of it. I won’t even be at the FNB stadium tomorrow – because as a fixer my team does not think I should be there.get one. So I’ve been literally crying and I feel cheated somehow, except who can I tell. Except you. While noting instructions from my team Clinton my former boss walks past and say to me “where’s my script” and  it brings back old memories of being in the news room where he would say the same thing to me… it took me while to write a story.  I see Sam, waiting in line and she gives me the warmest hug and I start crying I try to walk away. Later Hajra comes and gives me a hug and says hello member of the A team. She is a sweet woman. I start crying. I leave because I’m now too emotional. “Are you OK my dear” Havard the camera–man asks me. “You seem, quite frankly – shattered” he says. I tell him I will be fine tomorrow. Yet in my heart I wonder if he wouldn’t be shattered like me if it were him in my shoes.

MEET THE FIXER

Jedi Ramalapa a South African Female journalist for 13 years. Maybe you don’t understand. I have covered Mandela stories so many times in my life and the one time it matters, not one is willing to hire me, except as a fixer. It’s maddening, I want to scream, tear off my clothes, cry, and what not. But it’s not the end of the world. I will tell my story here. As a blogger – because that will be the most authentic story I could ever tell. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful to have a job – work to do , to be involved. It’s just I never thought that I would be a fixer in the biggest event of my country’s history instead of being the one telling the story.  Not even have the memento of a press tag. But life does work in mysterious ways and I have to be grateful for what I have.

They are on their way to pick me up. It’s 8:12 am South African time. We’re going to the Stadium. I’m driving them