Regret is a funny thing.
I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my life, both small and big, but there is precious little that I truly regret, since most experiences, especially those resulting from a mistake, invariably provide some sort of life lesson; you learn from them and move on, and are hopefully a wiser person in turn.
Having said this, one thing I do truly regret from my lifetime is that I never had the opportunity to shake Nelson Mandela’s hand. I know many people that did, many that met him and engaged in long and meaningful conversations with him, but sadly, that privilege was never mine. It is a rare thing in this day and age to feel that you are in the presence of real greatness, but I know, should I have looked into the eyes of one of the most influential people the world has ever seen, I would have felt supremely humbled.
Even though I never met him face to face, I was part of the crowd who heard him speak at Cape Town City Hall on Sunday 11th February 1991, the day he was released from prison, ending his 27 years of incarceration.
Although I can recollect the day vividly, and I have pictures firmly imprinted on my mind, the enormity of the occasion and the fact that I was witnessing history was sadly almost certainly lost on my 8-year old self, but I still count myself as privileged to have been there.
Nelson Mandela, or Madiba as he is often known – his Xhosa clan name – is a man one struggles (I talk as a South African) to discuss without feeling some kind of emotional upwelling. The sheer magnitude of the way in which he almost singlehandedly oversaw the peaceful transition of South Africa from the oppressive apartheid regime to a nation under democratic rule almost defies belief.
Through his dignity, humility, compassion and ability to forgive, he led the nation through a turbulent period that with anyone else as a figurehead may have resulted in civil war. His legacy will never be forgotten, and it is doubtful we will see his like again.
Today is Nelson Mandela day across the world. The launching of the 18th July as Nelson Mandela Day was a unanimous decision by the UN General Assembly in 2009, after Madiba had called for the next generation to take on the burden of leadership in battling social injustices across the globe.
At Londolozi we have a special reason to remember Madiba. Immediately following his release from prison, he visited here as a guest of the Varty family, and stayed for weeks as part of a recuperation period before resuming his role as leader of the African National Congress.
He had this to say about the experience:
“During my long walk to freedom, I had the rare privilege to visit Londolozi. There I saw people of all races living in harmony amidst the beauty that mother nature offers. There I saw a living lion in the wild.
Londolozi represents a model of the dream I cherish for the future of nature preservation for our country.”
Madiba is honoured at Londolozi to this day through Freedom Way, the pathway that leads up through the centre of our staff village. Guests walk this route on a daily basis to get some behind-the-scenes insight into the local culture, as well as to better understand how Londolozi is aiming to forward itself as the model for a futuristic African village.
The same gravel path that the guests tread upon now would have been walked by Nelson Mandela a quarter century ago, and I suppose in its small way, with its reminders of what this wonderful man stood for, it is an attempt to emulate and echo the sentiment of Mandela day itself.
We hold a small ceremony in the staff village every year on this day. Today a few words were spoken by Boyd Varty about Londolozi’s connection with Madiba, what he meant to this world, and what this country and its people meant to him. We then moved into our 67 minutes for Mandela – a movement in which one is asked to donate one minute for every year he spent as a public figure, as a gesture of solidarity with humanity – in which we planted aloes along Freedom’s way; beautiful flowering plants that are resilient in the face of tough conditions.
This day is more than just a celebration of Madiba’s life and legacy. It is a global movement to honour his life’s work and act to change the world for the better.