On Thursday evening a group of South Africans in Munich organised a memorial service in honour of Nelson Mandela. This was done voluntarily and out of goodwill, to bring fellow South Africans together in a space to mourn and celebrate this great man. To bring us together at a time when home is so far away.
thank you Nu, Beryl and Natasha for organising this, and for giving me the honour of giving this speech:
My name is André Thomas, I am a South African, and almost 2 years ago, I moved from Cape Town to Munich.
When I am asked why I would do something crazy like that, I reply that I really want to promote tourism to Africa, from outside of Africa for a while. To increase the knowledge about Africa. And to spread the love about our amazing country and continent.
My friends will tell you that I am madly in love with South Africa and everything that it represents. And I do miss it every single day. But I also know that I will be back.
Therefore, it is quite an honour for me to stand before you today, at this memorial for Nelson Mandela. Like so many of us here, I also feel very far away from home. I wish more than anything, right now, to be walking the streets of Jozi, or Cape Town, and to be feeling the electric unity of our brothers and sisters. To have a chance to sing and dance at the many memorial services back home.
When I heard the news on Thursday evening, I was shocked. I felt numb. Despite knowing that this news would come any day now.
Actually, if I think back over the last 6 months, I was almost expecting it every single morning when I checked the news websites. And every day I was quietly relieved that it hadn’t happened yet, that Madiba was still alive and fighting. And every day, unrealistic as it is, I did hope that the inevitable would never have to happen.
But, now, we have another opportunity to reflect on how very lucky we all are, to have shared a time in history with this inspirational man.
On the second weekend of February in 1990, my parents called me on the public phone (the tickie box) on our school’s weekend camp. Not something a child necessarily wants their parents to do… “they say Mandela is being released tomorrow – so we’re coming to fetch you a little earlier, so that we can to go to the parade.” And that’s where we were the next morning… standing next to a palm tree right in front of the city hall. The parade was filled with anticipation to finally see this legend. To get a glimpse of this man who had been hidden from us, and banned from our vocabulary for so long.
4 years later, in April of ‘94, I helped to count votes in those first democratic elections. It was also my first time to vote – and I was so chuffed to be a part of that process.
I remember a couple of days later driving down Main Road in Mowbray in Cape Town, on the evening that the election results were released. I found myself face to face with a wall of South Africans marching down the road, in celebration of the landslide ANC win – and we were all smiling, hooting and celebrating together!
I look at my circle of friends now – a real reflection of the multi-cultural society that is and makes South Africa so special – and a far cry from the all-white schooling system I was in until 1990.
I remember being a tour guide in SA in the late 90s, meeting American professionals at the airport. These lawyers, doctors, and the like, were coming to meet their professional counterparts, to get an understanding of how things had developed in SA. On one occasion, the group arrived all gung-ho, ready to “show South Africa how things should be done”. And 95% of these self-same professionals left South Africa 10 days later with tears in their eyes, telling me that they had learnt so much from us. And how grateful they are to have visited.
Now… almost 24 years after his release (and I so wished for him to have 27 years outside of jail, but this is pretty close)… it is both fascinating and frustrating to be a South African in Munich at the time of his death. I’ve found that so many people here don’t really understand what Mandela means to us.
Don’t get me wrong – pretty much everyone knows who Nelson Mandela is. But I have had some interesting conversations this past week:
I’ve been asked, “Is Mandela really such a big hero in your country?”
And “What is his life’s work that he will be remembered for?”. That one stumped me a little.
So… I patiently explain what he did for our country and how he went about creating this change we so badly needed.
And when I mention, that for 2 days after his death there was no advertising on the radio. That normal TV programming had been suspended on all government channels, they get a sense of how important this man must be to us.
And at least 3 separate conversations then lead on to a discussion about what other world figure in Germany or Europe he could be compared to.
And we really struggled to come up with anyone in current or recent history. The closest comparison that we could find was the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the subsequent re-unification of Germany. I think there were similar emotions in play at that time here in Germany.
So, what have I learned from Madiba?
Taking time for children
The importance of Education.
Fighting for what is right.
And to question what is wrong.
In September of 1994 Mandela said:
“If the ANC does to you what the Apartheid government did to you, then you must do to the ANC what you did to the Apartheid government.”
This is a favourite quote of mine from the man who was a loyal ANC member right to the end – and sums up so well what he stood for.
A significant chapter of our new history book has to come to a close. I believe that the post-Apartheid period and the transformation into The New South Africa has come of age. Mandela’s physical presence, despite his public withdrawal, always reminded us of what we have achieved in this last quarter century.
We have come a long way in our beautiful land, and there is a heck of a lot of fabulousness about South Africa. But it is now our responsibility to keep his vision, his spirit and his memory alive. This won’t happen automatically, and the eyes of the world will move on to new challenges and events and to look for new heroes.
Therefore let us promise ourselves, and our children, one thing:
We must never, ever forget what Madiba has taught us. Let us honour him by living our lives as he did, by treating others the way he led by example. By teaching our children and grand-children about our transformation.
I send my love and condolences to Nelson Mandela’s family, friends, and comrades, and also every South African out there.
Enkosi Kakuhlu and Hamba Kahle, Tata Madiba