I didn’t think I would write this. I was thinking it might be more dignified and honourable if I continued to just think quietly about you, how you might be feeling (or not feeling), after I woke in the morning.
I thought I would remain quiet while I watch the TV pictures showing all the messages and balloons of love going up outside the hospital inside which you slip away, unseen, unheard but still holding us.
I thought, as I ate my Weetbix and Passion Orange yoghurt and heard the clock tick and watched the birds flit about on a golden Overberg winter’s day, about the chilling winter of your last days and how seasons come to an end. How South Africa will go into spring without you… and how our flowers will grow and blossom anyhow. Perhaps not as brightly.
I thought, instead of writing this, I would take my gods for another walk, down the sandy and bumpy farm road, pools of Cape rain glistening in the warm light of my understanding. And then, believe me, I realised that I had written “gods” and not “dogs” in the previous sentence… and I sit here now, dogs freshly walked, thinking that perhaps this was not necessarily a mistake.
Perhaps, for a moment of two, I did walk with my gods. It feels that way. It feels like I walked with you. For the last time.
For I have switched off the television, logged off Facebook and other social media and closed the news websites. I sense this is a time for quiet reflection. For me. and for everybody who has loved you. And been inspired by you.
We will never forget the long walk that you made — we made, holding your giant and greatly reassuring hand — while you sought our freedom.
I was trained to kill your comrades, the enemies of my apartheid childhood. I was asked to spy for that grotesquely oppressive regime. Instead I was to be spied upon by that same regime while I worked on behalf of you and our comrades. I was told to only open my mouth to answer the questions of paranoia and suspicion at the airport when I dared to return home. I fought with the big white men around the braai as you walked free from Pollsmoor on that day of unconfined joy. I danced in Trafalgar Square when you appeared on the balcony of South Africa House. I was fortunate enough to be at the Royal Albert Hall when you danced with HM Queen Elizabeth.
I stood near you at the door to the Durban City Hall, wishing I could shake your hand. I settled instead for basking momentarily in the glow of the broad and loving smile you gave so freely.
You gave freely to all of us. So much. So selflessly. You have given enough. So, if you haven’t passed away already, please go in your own time. I, we, release you after your extraordinary journey with boundless love, respect and gratitude. Go in peace. And love. And in your all-knowing wisdom that you have completed this life’s work. This incredible life. And the new life you have given to us. And South Africa.
We’ll be OK. You know that. We will soar and sink and soar on this magnificent, sometimes mindboggling, rollercoaster of South Africanness. That’s how we are.
And we are how we are because of you. I, personally, will never forget the life lessons you taught me. The art of forgiveness. The gift of unconditional love. The enrichment of your inspiration. The beautiful feeling of being human. And free to be human. And of belonging. Despite the fact I once took up arms against you. And what you stood for. What you stood for… for me.
I have made mistakes. I will make mistakes, get it wrong. I will never be you. But you will always be a big part of me. And inform who I am. A grateful, forgiving, loving and proud South African.
And, should the overwhelmingly good majority of South African people, the Rainbow Nation that has never died in your wise and knowing eyes, want your ideals for themselves — and for our country — then you will not have lived and fought and suffered and forgiven and smiled and loved and taught and inspired and saved and died in vain.
There is so much that will be said, and written, and posted, and tweeted, and updated, and reported, and sung, about how you went. and how you lived. And what you did. I will simply sit here in my corner of our blessed country… and hold you in my heart.
We must let you go. Go, find your release, Madiba. Go in blissful peace. As you take another, perhaps shorter and less painful, but surely hardly more glorious, walk to freedom.
There is — was — no other like you.
Update from June 27 on Mandela’s condition from the New York Times: Amid deepening concern about the well-being of Nelson Mandela, President Jacob Zuma said Thursday that doctors had told him the former president’s condition had “improved during the course of the night” and, though he was still critically ill, he was “now stable.”
Words & picture: Fred Hatman
Fred Hatman (AKA Howard Donaldson) knew he wanted to be newspaper journalist at age 13. He has worked as a reporter and sub-editor for the Daily News and Cape Times, both based in South Africa and Wimbledon News, Today, London Daily News, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mirror, all based in London .