South Africa has always been a country divided into and by race. During Apartheid to ensure the minority benefits, and since democracy, attempting to right the wrongs from the past. Proponents of either era – by or into – add to continuous racial tension and division, reminding us daily that our republic has some ways to go before we can truly be called a Rainbow Nation. Yet, there has been one constant that has managed to turn the Bys and Intos into We – Nelson Mandela.
As Rebecca Davis wrote on The Daily Maverick, almost every political party in South Africa has at some point claimed that their party is alone “the best representative of Nelson Mandela’s values in local politics”. And this trickles down to ordinary citizens, people of every shade of black, pink, brown or yellow, who elevate Madiba to celestial status. He either freed, enlightened or united. He has been “claimed” by millions of South Africans. But, race, age and political orientation aside, we should allow all South Africans the freedom to quote him, love him, share his legacy, be inspired by him and tell his story.
Our Apartheid to Freedom walking tour is a personal favourite. It’s an emotional journey to places in Cape Town related to South Africa’s Apartheid history. Nelson Mandela plays a big part on this tour. Not because he is a “tourist attraction” and the world’s most famous Apartheid struggle hero, but because he had, and still has, a profound impact on this city, country, and its citizens. Inevitably, each guide has his or her own memory to highlight, tale to tell or quote to share that had a huge impact on his or her life.
Would South Africa have erupted in a civil war in the 1990s? At that time this country was a violent and dangerous place. Madiba said: “We cannot afford to be killing one and other.” On a civil war scale, we didn’t. When everyone expected reprisal from the oppressed, he preached that “courageous people do not fear forgiving – for the sake of peace”. The man himself said as he left prison: “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” Madiba simply united this country with his words and his actions. “Let freedom reign,” he said. “The sun never set on so glorious a human achievement.”
I’m glad to be South African, but I’m a proud and grateful South African because Nelson Mandela steered this country when we desperately needed a miracle. So, if I say, “because Madiba said so…”, I’m saying it with conviction.