Mourning Madiba in Germany

It is fascinating and frustrating to be a South African in Munich at the time of Madiba’s passing. Like my friends in London, I feel so very far away from home at a time like this.

But those in the UK, US, Canada and many other countries seem to have a more general feeling of sadness and public activities surrounding Mandela.

Yet, in Germany, I have found that most people don’t understand what he means – which has led to some interesting conversations.

Don’t get me wrong – pretty much everyone knows who Mandela is. But then I get questions like this:

“So is Mandela really such a big hero in your country?”

And “So, what is his life’s work that he will be remember for?” – that one left me stumped.

So I have patiently explained what he did for the country, how he went about it, his philosophies and the like.

And when I explained that for 48 hours there was no advertising on the radio, that normal TV programming had been suspended on TV during that time as well, they got a sense of how important this man must be to us South Africans.

At least 3 separate conversations with a handful of people in each case then lead to a discussion about what other world figure in Germany or Europe he could be compared to. No-one could come up with a person in current or recent history.

The closest comparison has come in the form of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the re-unification of Germany. There would have been similar emotions in play at that time.

This of course lead to yet another discussion about whether and why Germans are (considered) to be lacking in emotion.

The Germans certainly are very pragmatic and to the point. I have heard comments like, ”I know you are sad, but he was 95, and it was probably time.” All very rational and correct ☺

Through these discussions it was fascinating to see that outside SA not everyone knows as much or feels as strongly about Madiba (there are, of course, exceptions).

It was fascinating to see minds open and understanding seep in when we talked about this.

And while it is frustrating that I sometimes feel like I am the only one who is sombre, frustrating that everyone carries on like nothing happened – it has actually been an interesting form of therapy to explain this to those who are interested.

I will watch parts of the memorial service online tomorrow. I will go to a memorial service on Thursday evening.

And I will be going to London for the weekend to spend time with close friends from home. So that none of us are alone when Madiba is laid to rest.

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