A Tribute to Madiba

(Yesterday Nelson Mandela was buried in his hometown of Qunu, South Africa. Today the school where I work had a memorial assembly to show respect for this great man. Knowing that I come from South Africa, my colleagues asked me to say a few words about Madiba and how he changed the country. I wrote the following speech for an audience of children from 4 to 10 year olds. My aim was to give them a sense of how much the country changed without going into detail that they would not understand. I share the speech with you now as a contribution to the tributes that have been given to a man who helped change the history of my birthplace.)

“I was born in a segregated South Africa; a South Africa which worked at keeping the races separate. While I was growing up, I was surrounded by people who were the same race as me: at school, at church, when I went to the cinema. My neighbours and the friends I played with were the same skin colour as me. When I began university, I became aware of the inequalities that existed in my birth country. I began to read newspapers and participate in discussions on democracy and equal rights. I also came into close contact with people of other races that were my age.

An example of the many “Whites Only” signs seen in South Africa during Apartheid.

I remember the Apartheid laws slowly being changed while I was at studying to be a teacher. “Whites Only” signs were taken down; washrooms were opened to people of all races; a person of any race could step onto any bus they wished; the faces of cinema-goers represented the different skin colours found in the country; schools were “opened” and white-only schools became a thing of the past.

Nelson Mandela walking from the gates ofthe Victor Verster prison in the Cape. (AFP)

The little changes happening in the country led to a momentous occasion in South African history: the release of Nelson Mandela. He was a man who fought all his life for the equal rights of all people in his country. The prison release became a symbol of political change in South Africa. I remember sitting huddled around the radio with my teaching colleagues, listening as Mandela walked through the gates of the Victor Verster prison in the Cape. A normally chatty group of people were silent as we all focused on the words that were being uttered. I remember the shouts of jubilation as the national representative for freedom left the shackles of his imprisonment behind.

It was once he was released from prison that the hard work of Nelson Mandela began. He believed firmly in non-violence and peaceful negotiations. There were so many moments during the negotiations that we, as ordinary people, feared there would be war in our country. Tempers ran high, and threats were made. Violence erupted between the different political factions.  The assassination of a popular political leader brought the country to the brink of war. By this time negotiations between the major political parties had broken down. Thankfully Mandela and De Klerk agreed to begin negotiations again in order to curb the violence. Days turned into weeks of negotiations and I am always thankful that, somehow, these leaders prevented the occurring violence from becoming an outright war.

Queues at the polling station in Zevenfontein squatter camp, northern Johannesburg, 1994
Queuing to vote on 27 May, 1994. Photo credit: http://www.bbc.co.uk

The first democratic election in South Africa was held on May 27, 1994. For the first time people of all races stood in lines to vote. Violence continued right until the day before the elections. We feared that violence would erupt on the day of voting but it seemed as if Mandela’s spirit of reconciliation calmed everyone down. The day dawned brightly on the violent-free voting day. I had voted only once before and that had been a quick and hushed affair. On this day, however, the lines were long and made by people with different skin colours. People were chatting in the lines as we waited for hours to make our cross on a piece of paper. Men and women who were grandparents stood with us to fulfil their life-long dream of voting for a democratic government. The sense of unity and jubilation, free from fear of violence, is a feeling I will not quickly forget.

Mandela headed the Government of National Unity as the first black South African president. He continued with his campaign for all people in his country to experience equality. He supported all peoples of his country – no matter what their race – and believed that all races could be unified as one. His role in ending the Apartheid regime in a peaceful way, and in building a new democratic South Africa, was recognised when he was given the Nobel peace prize in 1993. He was awarded this prize jointly with Willem de Klerk, the man with whom he worked during the negotiations. When Madiba, as he is respectfully known, stepped down as president he did not retire peacefully. He was still involved in charities, and worked with others in peaceful negotiations around the world. He worked tirelessly with world leaders until his health prevented him from frequent travelling.

Madiba was a man whose principles were not easily swayed. He was a man with a vision. He was a man who did not give up until his vision was realised. The New South African anthem includes the words “Nkosi Silelel’ iAfrika”, meaning “God bless Africa”. A part of Africa was truly blessed when this man strived to non-violently change the politics in South Africa – and succeeded.

Viva Mandela! Long live his spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation. Viva Madiba! You will be missed.”

Feel free to add comments in honour of Nelson Mandela, or links to posts you have written on your blog. 

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2013

45 thoughts on “A Tribute to Madiba

    1. The older children certainly were. The younger children are not yet aware that other realities exist besides their own. I certainly had a captive adult audience.

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  1. Excellently put.
    One can’t say it all,, but also worthy of inclusion would have been that he evolved from a man of hatred and violence to the proponent of reconciliation he is celebrated as being.

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  2. Wonderful tribute dear Colline. I watched on television, it was so beautiful funeral ceremony, sometimes I cried, he was great man. He will live endlessly in human world, we are all being carrying his great thoughts… Thank you, love, nia

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  3. I love your tribute, Colline. It’s often hard to realise how recently apartheid was the norm in South Africa. What a world it could be with more men like that one! He has well-earned his rest. I loved the amount of rain that was showered upon him. 🙂

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  4. Thank you for posting this – very informative and even better from someone born in the country with their own set of experiences and memories. I’m going to post this onto my Facebook for my friends to appreciate what you have shared.
    Best wishes!
    Kim

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  5. Dear Coline
    I never realized that you are also a South African. Yes, this was a difficult, dark time for our country and I am so thankful for how Madiba and De Klerk stayed level headed despite the violence. I also wrote a post with the exact same name. I remember the day when they both received the Nobel Price for peace and how proud I was of them. When did you leave our beautiful country?
    Blessings XX
    Mia

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  6. Excellent tribute to a great man who strived for peaceful resolutions for all South Africans. His commitment to peace prevented certain bloodshed and set a standard of striving for peace in South Africa. Mandela is an incredible man who will we not forget. RIP Mandiba.

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  7. Thanks, Colline, for writing such a wonderful tribute to Mandela and for sharing your own recollections of what was a time of tremendous social and political change for South Africa.

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    1. You are so right Gemma. Every single adult in the audience was listening – the teachers were focused on my words and not paying attention to their classes. The little ones were fidgeting but they seemed to sense the solemnity of the words I was saying.

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  8. Thanks for sharing your connection with South Africa and it’s painful past. He was an amazing man. All of us could learn from him.

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  9. your first hand experience of growing up in South Africa and seeing these changes, of participating in then, is just wonderful Colline! thank you so much for sharing this, I am sure your words will mean a lot to those children listening … the world was privileged to have a man of Nelson Mandela’s stature, a loving peaceful leader who risked all to bring peace and freedom to his people.

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    1. The young ones did not really understand. The older children were listening and the adults were even more so. I received many comments afterwards from my colleagues.

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