In bed, on my cellphone at 11pm.
That’s where I found out about Madiba’s death. Something I had been expecting on many a morning while reading the news on my smartphone in bed. And then it came at night for many of us.
I had heard my phone bleep a couple of times, but ignored it. So it was only after I had crawled under the blankets, light snow and a chilly Munich air outside, that I read the first message, “Sorry to hear that you lost your Mandela. Love from me and a fan of a big legend, Warm regards to all people of SA!”.
This was only one of several message that came through more frequently while I moved to the couch and switched on the TV.
I was shocked, in disbelief. The pragmatist in me told me it was expected and would have happened any day soon. The rest of me felt sad. Numb. I wanted to cry, but no tears came.
One of the first things I did that night was look at the price of flights to South Africa for the funeral weekend. With these completely out of my reach price-wise, I looked at the alternative option of going to London to be with some of my very best friends, with whom I had shared so many experiences back home.
It was pricey – but so very worth it.
On the Sunday morning I got up at 05h55 to watch the funeral televised live. I was very impressed with the speeches – especially Ahmed Kathrada , Joyce Banda of Malawi and Tanzania’s Jakaya Kikwete.
It was so moving to see the coffin, knowing he is in there and seeing Graca Machel – I am so glad they had a full 15 years together.
Just before he was interred I tubed into the city, and met my friends at the giraffe restaurant on South Bank for breakfast.
On the way there we stopped at the Mandela bust nearby to take a first photo.
This was the start of a truly lekker day!
After breakfast we strolled along the south bank past all the Christmas stalls and the London eye, all along the Thames. The view onto the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben was pure touristy behaviour – with London Drizzle included.
We walked to Parliament Square where the Mandela statue is. He really is in good company here – with Churchill and Jan Smuts amongst others.
We spent a few minutes admiring the statue with it’s beautiful shirt detail, the many flowers and messages that friends and fans have left there. I had brought my SA Flag from the Munich memorial service with me – so we took some shots of us with Madiba and the colourful symbol of South Africa.
Then when it started to rain we took refuge in a nearby pub with a pint, where we posted one of these pics of us on facebook. And promptly got a “great pic! But you do know the flag is upside down?” comment in return…
Eish… that was embarassing… because it is exactly the type of thing I normally notice and point out to others 🙂
So, two of us went back to the square to “rectify” the pictures.
And we ended up being there for about an hour as more and more South Africans, and friends of madiba borrowed my flag for their own pictures. It was such a festive mood – we had fantastic conversations with lots of different people. Some came to cry, some to read a poem, some to leave flowers and and and… it was really special to share this spot and memories with Kenyans, Indonesians, Brits, South Africans and many many more.
It is exactly what Madiba would have loved – and a microcosm of what I suspect is happening back home – that this is bringing all sorts of people together.
We continued to South Africa House at Trafalgar Square to see the tributes at our embassy. Flowers had even been placed against a fountain on the square itself, opposite South Africa House.
The angle we first spotted them at made it look like they had been placed at the base of Nelson’s column…. Which made us joke that there had been a case of mistaken-Nelson-identity ☺
I saw one of my favourite multi-coloured notes, handwritten by a young girl:
“Dear Nr Nelson Mandela you were an inspiration to me and I will always look up to you. You taught me a lesson to never mis treat people if they’re gay, a boy or a different colour and you have made me who I am today so THANK YOU. Lol from Abi”
We were spotted by a South African couple (I think they noticed my SA Flag which I was by now wearing like a cape…) They came over and asked where the function was happening. Turns out there was a party at a club in Leicester Square. We headed that way, with a stop at the Hector Pietersen statue in St Martin in the Fields (I had no idea!). It is such a beautiful and simple church inside.
We did get into the party at the club, but there was nothing happening yet – so we gave that a skip to get a bite to eat.
Back home we watched the funeral highlights with tears in our eyes, seeing the last journey of Nelson Mandela.
This morning it was so sad to wake up, knowing that Madiba had spent his first night underground. For a few days we still had the chance to see him – his coffin, at least. But now he is truly gone.
I haven’t shed a tear, but I now know the feeling of a heavy heart.
Rest in Peace, Tata.