My love story with you started when I was in the 3rd grade and was an incurable bookworm. Lolley, one of my friends, had walked in with your (auto?)biography and my hawk eyes couldn’t be torn away from it. I became restless and rushed to make sure I was the first to borrow the book and dissolve my eight-year old soul in it. See, mine was a class of extraordinary readers. We were so young, yet so inquisitive and ended up reading books that were way beyond our level. It is no wonder that most of us have grown up into closet-writers and faithful readers of almost everything in black and white… color too. Tata, I hate to bore you so I’ll just go straight to the point (God help me).
I got the book first and read every word. The details escape me now and I can’t even remember the title or author, but the general idea stayed with me after I reluctantly returned it to its owner. At that age, one question lingered in my mind: how did you stay in prison for 27 years?! I was only eight and already felt I had lived a long life, so the images of someone locked up for that long were quite disturbing. I remember paragraphs of political rallies, which I now associate with the anti-apartheid activism that you led. At the time, I was too young to understand the political references in the book. To me, it was probably just another story written for the pleasure of the readers, especially when I convinced myself that the prison term was a hyperbole. I grew up and the memories moved to the back of my head, but your images would pop up once in a while. We were to learn about you in school and remember that you are one of the greatest leaders Africa has ever had. I knew there was something different about you then, and took great pleasure in discovering your quotes and snippets of the whole anti-apartheid movement. Becoming a child activist at the age of 10 drew me closer to your story, as there were great lessons to be learnt from you. At the time, my colleagues and I could be referred to as HIV/AIDS ‘specialists’ and South Africa would usually emerge in our studies. For a non-native, your country is almost always linked to your image,and so we met again.
One day, last year, I was holed up in my room, the poster child for boredom. I searched through my laptop for movies I could watch and came across Invictus. I’d had it with me for a little over a year, but had never bothered to watch it. Hence it was the only thing available, I settled down comfortably and watched all 134 minutes of the movie. I wasn’t prepared for the emotions it brought, but I was grateful I’d chosen it over the usual web-surfing that night. Memories of the book mentioned earlier came back to me, and I was able to get a clearer picture of the descriptions. More importantly, my faith in a better Africa was renewed, as I had promised to share it with my friends and loved ones. Invictus was not just a movie. It was a life-lesson for all who would notice. I spent the rest of that night digging out more information about you, for I felt I had a lot to learn.
Of all the attributes depicted, I was most impressed by your forgiving spirit. Where the black South Africans wanted revenge over the whites, you advocated for reconciliation as it was the best for your country. I watched as you interacted with your staff, personifying humility and setting great examples for them and us all. I was empowered by your faith in the Springboks and the unwavering support you gave them, leading to their victory in the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Much was not shown about your family life, and I have read controversial essays about it, but have accepted to treat that which is private as such. I was left wishing and praying that our current and future leaders would take a leaf off your book and fulfill that dream you and many others had of our great continent. My feelings are better expressed in a post I wrote a few months ago: Invictus: My Therapy.
Thus, it is not a great surprise that each time I am asked about the people I would love to meet before leaving this Earth, you always come up in my list. Sometimes I wonder what I would say to you if I had the chance, but then we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. See, I am a full-time student and I know time is not on our side, sadly. Thus, I keep praying for a chance to come to South Africa and meet you, if even from a distance. Meanwhile, I will admire and learn from the many lessons you have to offer. I will emulate the good actions and build a stronger resolve in my service to humanity. I’ll remember that:
”It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.
”A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.”
Till we meet someday, Madiba, I pray God keeps you with us some more.