I was off the Londolozi property the morning after Nelson Mandela passed away. “Off-site” we often say. I had just completed the panoramic hilly pass that connects the small town of White River to Hazyview in Mpumalanga, and had spent the 30-minute drive listening as various members of the public phoned in to a local radio station, to share their memories of the great Madiba, as well as their grief. For a summer’s morning, it was unusually cool. Still and overcast.
As I listened to what my fellow South Africans were saying (and feeling), I remember asking myself:
“Am I sad?”
“Am I sad enough?”
It was one of those moments where I wasn’t entirely sure how I should be reacting. I know one of my history lecturers had always said: “as students of history, don’t fool yourselves into making heroes of statesmen” or something to that effect.
And then, as I stopped at a traffic light, the radio presenter introduced an audio clip to his programme. It was the actual statement by Mandela, addressed from the witness stand of the South African Supreme Court in 1964. Mandela was standing trial on charges of sabotage and was moments away from being handed his punishment. The betting men had put money on the death penalty. We all know now that – as a result of Mandela’s statement – he was served with life in prison, with most of those years being spent on Robben Island.
I am embarrassed to say that, although I had read Mandela’s 1964 statement as a university student, I had never listened to the recording. In truth I hadn’t known that it existed.
On that morning, to hear Madiba’s voice, to hear the authenticity of his words, to hear his love, his determination, his truth, was overwhelming. I was suddenly overcome. A tear escaped. I didn’t have time to think about. I didn’t have time to stop it. It took me by surprise.
This is a true story. The traffic light had turned green, but none of the vehicles in my lane had moved. We were all listening. As a nation we were undone with words from 1964 that aren’t sophisticated or fancy. Just brave. We were brought to a standstill by how the indescribable bravery of one man can bring so much hope into our world.
On his birthday, now internationally known as Mandela Day, here are the words not of a statesman, but of the father of our nation. You may be reading this off-site or likely on another continent, but I hope this address from the “Rivonia trial”, as it is referred to, connects you to the truly extraordinary story of our country.
Note: Nelson Mandela spent time as a guest at Londolozi on a number of occasions after his release from prison. Dave Varty offers some insight in the following blog post from December 2013, shortly after Madiba’s death: Remembering Madiba.
Written by Ryan James, Good Work Foundation