I remember the day when Nelson Mandela was released from prison like it was yesterday. I have no idea why I have such a vivid memory of it, but I just do. It was 1990 and I was 10 years old. We had just arrived at our campsite ready for a waterskiing weekend and it was absolutely pouring with rain. Usually when we arrived at our campsites Dad would immediately begin unpacking the caravan and start to put the tent up regardless of the weather. It was always a bit of a commotion as he would yell instructions at us to “stand by that peg” or “hold this line” – which of course none of us ever did!! (I can only now appreciate his frustration).
“Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
– Nelson Mandela
Anyway, this time was different. We all sat in the car listening to the radio (no ipads or DVD players in those days). Mum and Dad had both SHHHHHHHHHED us several times, so we knew it was important. I remember not quite understanding what was going on but asking my dad to explain and he told me “Things are about to change my girl! For the better!”
“We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, handsome, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are we not to be?”
– Nelson Mandela
A couple of years later we immigrated to England and it was only really there that I started to learn the true meaning of who this ‘Nelson Mandela’ was, and about the Apartheid part of South African history. My parents had kept us very sheltered from the politics surrounding us as children and had brought us up not to see any different between black and white. I was very naive and had quite a tough time as a young, white South African teen in England trying to defend my stance on how I was involved in the Apartheid. Especially as I wasn’t involved at all and actually knew very little about it. I started to mimic the English accent in an attempt to ‘fit in’ and not be asked any more questions about why I hated black people (which of course I didn’t). I even went as far as trying to deny my own heritage as I started to believe that being South African was something to be ashamed of.
“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
It took me quite a few years to finally make peace with my real roots and to be proud of where I came from. Reading Nelson Mandela’s autobiography “Long Walk to Freedom” really helped to put everything into perspective for me. It opened my eyes to the power positive thoughts and self belief. If you ever get a chance to read it, it’s an amazing and truly moving story.
Another moment in history, which is without a doubt etched in the memories of every single South African, was that moment on the 24th June 1995 when the Springboks won the rugby world cup. I was 15 years old and on a school Geography trip. Earlier that day my foot had slipped down a rabbit hole (don’t laugh) and I broke my ankle, which meant that I couldn’t go down to the beach to do “geography stuff” with the rest of my class mates. Instead I got to sit in front of the telly with my geography teacher, who was also South African, and who had also broken her ankle in that rabbit hole (true story, I promise) and watched the game!!! Oh my god, was it exciting!!! We were screaming and bouncing up and down on the bed in a tiny room somewhere in Dorset – so I can only just begin to imagine the atmosphere that must have been in South Africa that day. Mr D remembers it well too as the game was on his 21st Birthday.
“As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”
– Nelson Mandela
“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed towards the sun and one’s feet moving forward.”
– Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom
He is, and always will be a true inspiration to mankind and I’m pretty sure he will be somewhat entangled in the hearts of all South Africans. I wish him well as he fights his final battle with life itself, which will surely lead him to his ultimate freedom.