Early on the morning of Tuesday the 10th of December 2013, I was struck by the unifying spirit Nelson Mandela embodied by the mega-mob of cross-racial, cross-generational and international people who came for his memorial service at FNB Stadium. It’s 4AM, and after I had camped overnight with three friends, Madiba’s name reverberates through the crowd as struggle songs are danced and sung to passionately – setting the harmonious bellow as the day’s soundtrack.
The first of my remarkable moments of the morning came when we finally reached the inside the stadium. Niki and Bruce Bartlett, Eastern Cape-born siblings who had travelled from the UK for the event and Kutlwano Metseng, a friend of mine who’d volunteered to assist me cover it, were equally taken by the enormous size and beauty of the stadium, which stood as a proud symbol of the immensity of the man we were here to remember. In the upper east stands, thousands of people continued to shake the stadium with struggle songs like I’d never seen and felt anything sung ever before. It was breathtaking. Needless to say, this is where we decided we would settle. Right at the top.
The view from the top tiers, and being a part of the singing was mind-blowing. I’ve never sung so proudly.
The arrival of the dignitaries, which kept flashing on the giant screens, was the fuel to the fire of cheers, conversations and singing that took place all around us. And with every new arrival, the singing got louder and the conversations deeper.
“Obama isn’t coming anymore!” shouted one person, to a prompt response of “He is! Of course he is!, from another. “He has to”, ultimately – after long discussions – is what most agreed. He arrived. Obama arrived and so did Charlize Theron. Winnie Mandela came and so did Naomi Campbell. George W. Bush arrived and well, so did President Jacob Zuma. It’s at the arrival of the President of the Republic that we saw perhaps what shouldn’t have been, but was, the event of the day. His booing by crowd. It was surprising, but at no point did anyone imagine it to be out of place or unwarranted.
The President, it became clear to me, was keenly recognised by the crowd as the anti-thesis to Nelson Mandela. And he was spoiling the mood. Some have since claimed that this shouldn’t have happened at a time like this. I contend, however, that it was the most appropriate time.
At a time that we and the world came to celebrate a man who was a proud symbol of hope, integrity, joy, accountability, principle and love, the appearance of Jacob Zuma – a man who has equally come to symbolise corruption, obscurity and near-lawlessness for the thousands of people there – was always going to sour the mood. These people, the same whom I had seen denounce the singing of dhubul’ ibhunu in the order of struggle songs sung just hours earlier, were in remembrance of a truly great man and gaining the motivation to continue his proud legacy when the appearance of Jacob Zuma reminded them of how far the ship has sunken.Just how far-removed South Africa was continuing to become from Madiba’s dream, as signified by the appearance of President JZ, was a sobering reality to which they quickly responded. To which WE responded. I am proud to have held hands during the national anthem and sung loudly and proudly with such a spirited people that morning.
If the ANC does to you what the apartheid government did to you, you must do to the ANC what you did to the apartheid government. – Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela would’ve considered it a telling sign (language, haha) of the country’s situation far sooner than he would have relegated it to a mere “disciplinary” issue like Desmond Tutu did. To denounce it because it happened in front of a global audience is shortsighted and naive because the world knows full well about the situation in South Africa. For was it not Nelson Mandela who once said: “If the ANC does to you what the Apartheid government did to you, then you must do to the ANC what you did to the Apartheid government.” It was.
Nelson Mandela is the icon he is today because he was a colossus who stood against injustice by anyone, and never did he deny his conscience the right to express discontent at any injustice. It’s why I’m convinced that Madiba would’ve been proud of that display.
If Madiba – the father of the nation – was the brave, courageous, enterprising soul we all knew him to be, then we are our father’s nation. There has never been a sterner, keener expression of Nelson Mandela’s demanding legacy by the nation than the booing of Jacob Zuma on Tuesday 10 December 2013.
On a lighter note, next to Barack Obama, various sitting presidents and world leaders present, stood a man who kept flinging his arms around all day. We all noted the interpreter on stage but like normal, that’s where it ended. Acknowledgement.If we had paid closer attention, however, we might’ve been scored ourselves a crash course in gang signing. Gratis. That guy was as much a deaf interpreter as he was a world champion idiot. The ANC/government/not sure who they’ll blame next, brought us all a bogus interpreter! Not very booreaucratic guys. What the heck(le) were they thinking?
After all the speeches were done, after all the bags had been packed and I left the stadium with every shop rolling their doors shut, that day – I know – will stick with me forever as easily one of the most memorable and exciting days of my life.
RIP Tata Madiba. RIP Nelson Mandela.
Madiba magic STILL truly lives.
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