CAPE TOWN, South Africa, December 5, 2013 — As a child, I grew up knowing the definition of a hero. A term easily personified by two words: Nelson Mandela.
“A leader is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along, they are being directed from behind.” - Nelson Mandela
A man who fought the injustice, fought the atrocities, even fought the law - a man now gone. At age 94, one could argue that Mandela has lived his life and can now rest a hero and in peace. But for an adolescent South Africa, Mandela is the much needed role model, the father, the only one the South African child will listen to.
Much like many in her age group, South Africa faces a tumultuous time. A time where she is beginning to discover her identity, to question her elders and unfortunately also a time to rebel.
Economic crises have seen the local Rand at its worst in four years. Week in and week out public servants down tools in strikes that threaten to shut down the productivity of a variety of sectors. The police force unravels before our eyes as they are consumed by corruption and scandal in the highest ranks. Xenophobia hate peaks as many fall at the hands of their own African brethren. Crime escalates and hope is nearly lost. Save one last voice in the wilderness, a voice whose words spoken years shin still echo through the heart of the land.
“For to be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
And so Tata (father) Mandela taught the South African child to live out their freedom. He taught the young thing to push on even through turmoil and uncertainty. And even now, his existence inspires still.
I will not forget the last time I saw him. It was in early May, and the country’s morale was at an alarming low. What was clearly an act of desperation from the ruling party resulted in a combination of horror and despair from South Africans.
Previously, Mandela was visited by the president at his home in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. The images captured the father of the nation as frail, tired - and the expression I can never forget- confused. As the PR vultures snapped a toothy president next to the frail old man, I realized I could no longer fight the inevitable. Mandela was going to die.
Recurring visits to the hospital and accidental leaking of “RIP Mandela” tributes had jaded the nation to the fact that he will not live forever.
“Courage is not the absence of fear, it’s inspiring others to move beyond it.”
But Tata, we are scared - I am scared. You inspire us. You embody courage. What will become of the ruling ANC party without you? What will South Africa do without you? And what of our children? And our children’s children? Who will inspire them the way you inspired us - the way you inspired me? You cannot become another fallen hero tucked in the pages of a 9th grade History textbook.
“Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great - you can be that generation.”
Its been a week in hospital now. He lies in a “serious but stable” condition according to the presidential spokesperson. The vague information hardly inspires confidence. The increasing media frenzy…the solemn faces of political figures…and the grapevine:
Nelson Mandela has passed:
“I am the captain of my soul.”
Then grab the wheel and steer yourself back to us.
I’m not ready to let my hero go.
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