Regret is a funny thing. I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my life, both small and big, but there is precious little that I truly regret, since most experiences, especially those resulting from a mistake, invariably provide some sort of life lesson; you learn from them and move on, and are hopefully a wiser person in turn.
Having said this, one thing I do truly regret from my lifetime is that I never had the opportunity to shake Nelson Mandela’s hand. I know many people that did, many that met him and engaged in long and meaningful conversations with him, but sadly, that privilege was never mine. It is a rare thing in this day and age to feel that you are in the presence of real greatness, but I know, should I have looked into the eyes of one of the most influential people the world has ever seen, I would have felt supremely humbled.
Photo credit: Emilys Quotes and sahistory.org.za.
Even though I never met him face-to-face, I was part of the crowd who heard him speak at Cape Town City Hall on Sunday February 11, 1991, the day he was released from prison, ending his 27 years of incarceration.
Although I can recollect the day vividly, and I have pictures firmly imprinted on my mind, the enormity of the occasion and the fact that I was witnessing history was sadly almost certainly lost on my 8-year old self, but I still count myself as privileged to have been there.
Nelson Mandela, or Madiba as he is often known – his Xhosa clan name – is a man one struggles (I talk as a South African) to discuss without feeling some kind of emotional upwelling. The sheer magnitude of the way in which he almost singlehandedly oversaw the peaceful transition of South Africa from the oppressive apartheid regime to a nation under democratic rule almost defies belief.
Through his dignity, humility, compassion and ability to forgive, he led the nation through a turbulent period that with anyone else as a figurehead may have resulted in civil war. His legacy will never be forgotten, and it is doubtful we will see his like again.
The same gravel path that the guests tread upon now would have been walked by Nelson Mandela a quarter century ago, and I suppose in its small way, with its reminders of what this wonderful man stood for, it is an attempt to emulate and echo the sentiment of Mandela day itself.
We hold a small ceremony in our staff village every year on this day to honor Mandela and his visit here. Planting aloes along freedom’s way.
This day is more than just a celebration of Madiba’s life and legacy. It is a global movement to honour his life’s work and act to change the world for the better.