Thoughts on Mandela from a South African too far from home

So this is what it feels like when you sit waiting for news about a loved one.

You know they are going to die, you know it is inevitable, you know it will release them from pain and suffering. You don’t necessarily want to admit that a part of you will be relieved for them when it is over.

But you don’t want to lose them. Don’t want to accept the fact that sooner, rather than later, they will no longer be in this world with you.

18 months ago I moved to Germany for a while, in order to promote Africa from outside of Africa. To increase knowledge and spread the love about our amazing country and continent. My friends will tell you that I am madly in love with South Africa and all that it represents. I miss it every day. But I know I will be back.

Which is why I feel so far away from SA and my fellow country-people right now. Feel in limbo, feel disconnected from what must be an incredible experience of solidarity in the face of this sadness.

I have so many amazing memories of the past 20 years rushing around my head:

My parents fetched us from a school camp in 1990 so that we could be on the parade when Madiba was released. It still gives me goose-bumps when I think about that day.

I helped count votes in that first democratic election in 1994 – also my first chance to vote – and I was so proud!

I remember driving down Main Road in Mowbray on the evening the election results were released, confronted by a wall of South Africans marching in festive celebration at the positive outcome – and we all smiled and celebrated together.

I look at my circle of friends – a true reflection of the multi-cultural and respectful society that is and makes South Africa so special – and a far cry from the all-white schooling system I was in until 1990.


Now I sit in Munich, watching the news websites ad nauseum, desperate for any bit of news. Each time a new headline appears, my heart sinks. Every morning I open them, fearful of seeing “that” headline that we are all expecting. Every day I tell myself, today is the day.

I wish I was in South Africa at this time, to be part of the mourning process. While Germans know who he is, only few can appreciate just how much he means to all of us. I am unable to find a local comparison to let my colleagues understand what this loss will mean. My boss already knows that I will not be in the office on the day of the funeral. That time will be spent with my fellow South Africans.


I do not believe, even for a minute, that there will be mayhem, a “night of swords” or anything similar when Madiba dies. Mostly because that is not who South Africans are, and because I believe that we have learnt from his example. We still have other “moral beacons” alive and well in our homeland – Desmond Tutu as an example.

I know that we will continue to respect each other and take the spirit of Mandela and the work of so very many people in our wonderful nation further.


A good friend of mine summed up SA beautifully at a talk to students here in Munich: “We are a nation that celebrates diversity. What brings us together is the fact that we are all different”. I love that – and it is something the rest of the world can learn from.


It is strange: I have never felt further away from SA than right now, yet I also feel so very connected to what we are going through.


My love goes to Nelson Mandela, his family and friends, and every single South African in the whole world.

We have come a long way, there is a heck of a lot of fabulousness about South Africa. Don’t forget it!


André Thomas

27 June 2013

Munich (and Cape Town)

2 thoughts on “Thoughts on Mandela from a South African too far from home

  1. Well I do not see his legacy that positively. What we are seeing the exodus of the Afrikaners. We see a new and even stronger racism in South Africa and we see more and more living in a desperate plight. Even though I still have a very romantic image in my head from my years in school and as a student in Pretoria, I do not want Apartheid back and it was not right but a chance was missed to create a state that overs all groups of the population a fair chance. I increasingly see the only possibility in giving up the rest of South Africa and creating a Boer republic that gives Whites a chance to stay in the country and keeps the Afrikaner culture and language from dying out.

    • Dear Peter,

      Thank you for your comment. I am not sure where you are living now, but I doubt it matters much in the discussion.
      The beauty of South Africa is that it is a melting pot of different cultures that generally live together peacefully, respecting each other as co-owners of South Africa.

      Yes, there may be Afrikaners leaving the country – there are also others leaving the country for various reasons. I know, though, from personal experience, that many many South Africans of all colours and backgrounds are actually moving back to South Africa after years overseas.

      Afrikaans as a language is very much still respected, and spoken by many people in the country. If you want a “whites-only” environment, then Orania is already available as a space for that. In my opinion it would be a bad idea to split the country again.

      South Africa is considered a vibrant, lively, friendly and warm country, that does not have many equals in the world. I cannot wait to move back one day.

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