Snapshots of the Memorial of a Great Man

Waking up on Friday morning, I was greeted, like every morning, by Auntie as she sweeps the floor outside my room.

“Good morning Ra-chelle! Have you heard of Mandela?”

“No, what’s happened?”

“Mandela? He was our hero, he worked to end Apartheid…”

“Oh!” I said, blushing, “I know who he is. Has something happened?”

“He died last night.”


As I write this, I’m watching the live coverage of Mandela’s funeral service in Soweto, a township of Johannesburg made famous for uprisings during Apartheid. Rain is pouring down on the other side of the camera, drenching dignitary and poor man alike. In the midst of the steady drizzle, a gospel choir strikes up song, and the steady commentary, spoken in Zunglish (Zulu and English), remarks on the kind of inspiration Madiba creates, that those who love him will sit in puddles of water to honor him. Important faces flash across the screen – Presidents of the world, past and present, Tutu, celebrities, men and women swarmed by secret service. If it weren’t before, their presence makes it blatantly obvious that the influence of this man has spanned the entirety of the human race.


“Tony Blaire is here,” says my Baba. “And so is the President of Zimbabwe. They hate each other. But today – today they must be in the same place. Because of Mandela.”


And while I’m sure they mourn the passing of a great man, it’s those dancing in the cheap seats, those waving flags, those who, although the service was supposed to start an hour ago, are joyously singing and praising in their trash bag rain coats that really speak to my heart. I don’t know that I can claim that Mandela has made a positive impact on my life yet – I’m just discovering his wisdom, his vision, his writings, and his influence. But as flags wave in the stands, the symbol of the country I now love, I’m struck, at last, with a glimpse of the scope of his effect on the lives of ordinary South Africans. And as I fell in love, every day, with more and more ordinary South Africans, I can’t help but feel a deep sense of gratitude for you, Madiba.


Just received a text from fellow YAGM Emily Dahle – she’s there, in the stands, and I’m overwhelmed with jealousy and pride that one of our YAGM can be there to commemorate Madiba.


Obama is getting up to speak. There’s something so cool about seeing the leader of my one home standing behind the seal of my other.

Strange to hear him referred to as “His Excellency”.


“God has blessed South Africa,” says Baba as the President of Brazil stands up to speak. “I think so. God has blessed South Africa.”


The Master of Ceremonies is asking for silence and calling out the parts of the stands that aren’t listening. I’m reminded of High School assemblies.


The rain is starting here too. It doesn’t take much poetic imagination to picture that all of South Africa is crying.


It’s hard to say how the people in my community are handling this loss. I’m sure I haven’t been privy to many of the conversations about him that have circled through my community in the last few days. Off-handed comments tend to be more about how much time on the TV has been taken over by remembrances of him. But the ones who seem most affected are definitely the older generations, which comes as little surprise. Those my age or younger understand that something big has happened, but don’t seem to be as emotional. Most expressed emotions of all ages are definitely of gratitude.


Alwande just crawled into my lap and fell asleep as we listen to South African President Jacob Zuma. And here comes Maqhawe to claim my other side. Soon I won’t have lap left to hold my computer as I type. But a beautiful reminder that as more generations are born into this beautiful country, thanks to the hard work and undying dedication of people like Mandela, they will inhabit a better South Africa. I may never entirely understand his influence, but I love these little hands, these little feet, these perfect tiny ears. I am forever grateful to him that these hands can grow up and hold hands with those they love, regardless of race; that these little feet can carry them anywhere in this country, no longer barred because of their pigmentation; that these ears will never have to hear institutionalized hatred thrown against them. And I am so grateful that I was able to be here as this country mourns the passing of an unparalleled man and strives to live out his undying vision.


Siyabonga kakhulu Madiba. – We thank you so much, Madiba.


3 thoughts on “Snapshots of the Memorial of a Great Man

  1. Thank you for sharing your thought and reactions, Rachel! I’m happy you could be in South Africa at this time to help us understand Mandela’s impact on all of us. I’m appreciating his autobiography! Much, much love from home, Dad

  2. Yes, thousands got a place in the stadium. You had the best seat of all – engaging history and embracing the future all at once. This is one we won’t see in TIME or hear on NPR – but will hold on to as family treasure – and share with happy pride. Best love, Pappa

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