Today, 5 December, 2013, I woke up to the alarm clock on my phone as I do every other morning. I saw a message notification. I clicked on it. “Madiba’s gone…”My heart slowed down. I memorized the scene; Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong, stuffy room in a stuffy apartment, traffic noise below, construction workers shouting across the road at each other, people carrying on with their busy lives. Why have the clocks not stopped? Where are the bells? This morning is like no other.
My feelings turned to anger. I turned on the television. Obama: “He no longer belongs to us – he belongs to the ages.” Zuma: “Our nation has lost its greatest son.” I want to be at home right now. I should be at home right now; sharing in my people’s grief, celebrating the life of a legend. But instead, I am going to walk out of my apartment past thousands of people who don’t even know his name. I am going to teach little children for hours, them not knowing that today, one of the world’s greatest men has passed. I want to shout his name through the corridors and on the playground. But of course, I cannot. This morning is like any other here.
My feelings turn to gratitude. I realise now that without Madiba and the countless heroes of the apartheid struggle, I’d probably never have had the amazing opportunities to travel, to come and go freely from my country, to be tolerant of all people, to embrace each new culture with understanding and insight.
My feelings turn to pride. I am proud that I come from a country that encourages the challenging of the status quo and champions human rights and equality for all. I am proud to come from a country that allows me to be just who I want to be. I am proud of how far we have come as a people. Madiba has long been the face of our country’s pride.
Today is the day that I most want to be at home celebrating the life of my greatest hero, Nelson Mandela. But today, I know I am just where I should be. How lucky I am to be able to share his legacy with the people around me wherever I am in the world. How fortunate I am to have lived in his time. How blessed I am to be a South African.
Rest in peace, Tata Madiba. We shall never forget.