06
Dec
13

Our Father

nelson-mandelaI found out late, probably around 2am when J-Rab checked her phone whilst feeding our baby girl. She turned to me and said the words every South African has known were coming for the last six months.

“Nelson Mandela has died.”

I lay in bed staring at the ceiling, listening to the gale force winds of Vredehoek blowing the South Africa I have always known away.

I was six years old when he was released from prison. I was ten when he was sworn in as president. I was fourteen when his presidency ended, twenty when he retired from public life, twenty seven when he was first hospitalised. I am now thirty.

I don’t remember what I said to J-Rab when she told me, I don’t think much. I’m not sure what there is to say. She fed our cub in silence, gently laid her down in her cot next to the bed and soothed her back to sleep.

In the half light streaming in from the bathroom, I saw J-Rab wipe her cheek.

This morning I rose early to go to gym and experienced the first wave of media dedicated to him – it was the speech he gave at his inauguration – “Let there be justice for all… Let there be peace for all… Let freedom reign…”

The TV in the gym change room was showing a vigil in London attended by a handful of South African expats. I watched for a long time, other people gathered around the TV too, we didn’t say anything to one another, we didn’t have to.

I trained hard. The gym is my church, it’s the place I go to shut out the world, the first place I run to when I need to escape. I go deep into the darkness and it welcomes me as it always does with burning intensity and, for an hour or so, sweet oblivion.

But even in the throes of it, I couldn’t push the thoughts of this staggering loss out of my mind.

When I came back home, I found J-Rab trying desperately to sleep and our little one thrashing around joyfully in the bed next to her, burbling baby nonsense and smiling from ear to ear.

That was the hardest part of a day that I know is only going to get harder – seeing my daughter lying there, all of 3 months old, and knowing that she will never know a world in which Nelson Mandela is alive.

I’ll leave the biographies and the detailed stories of his life and tributes to the people who are better versed to write them.

All I know is that we lost more than a statesman last night, we lost more than a politician, more than a freedom fighter, more than a leader.

We lost a father, and my prayer for the sons and daughters he left behind is that we never forget the sacrifices he made for us, nor the hope he carried in his heart for the future of this beautiful, haunted country.

May the sun never set on so glorious a human achievement.

-ST


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