The fact that I arrived home the day South Africa celebrated the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela is something I will be eternally grateful for. There had been so much speculation surrounding Mandela’s health and whether or not he was still with us that it almost seemed as if, when we were finally given the go ahead to say goodbye, South Africans did so with relief as well as joy, gratitude and pride. It truly was a celebration.
My experience of the whole thing saw an incredible amount of joy in the place of sadness, as well as a sense of calm rather than the chaos so many people had anticipated. The country was well prepared for the inevitable day Madiba, the face of the nation, would have to live only in our memories. He had been sick for months and eventually, when his time did come, he went in peace in the comfort of his own home. Just like he deserved.
What he also deserved was the congregation of people outside his house in Houghton, Johannesburg; dancing, singing, celebrating, joking, crying, remembering the man we all consider our father. This was only one of the places South Africans gathered to show their respects. Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton and Vilikazi street in Soweto where other massive rendezvous points for the occasion. As well as various other spots around the country.
As a brightly coloured crowd danced and sang songs of remembrance and freedom I was reminded of just how beautiful the people of this country can sing. Their natural ability to harmonize is always impressive and so too is their tradition of dancing in the face of sadness. People of all generations, colours, religions and social status crowded together, smiling at and with one another in memory of Nelson Mandela. While South Africa has a way to go in dealing with its racial, social and economic divisions, this occasion allowed us to forget about it for a moment and just be, as Madiba wanted, brothers and sisters.
I think most of all, being present for all of this has reminded how I feel about my country, or rather, how my country makes me feel. As much as the Earth is calling me to explore all its corners, I will always be proudly South African. And sometimes, as hard as it is to define what it is to be South African, there is something so obvious about it when you’re back home. A melted-pot of cultures and traditions that we all share- black, white, Indian, Coloured, you name it. A braai for example; we all love a good one of those!