Our most recent family pic with only Andrew missing

Friday, December 6, 2013

My Nelson Mandela Memories

                                Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela
                                July 18, 1918 - December 5, 2013

I think each of us South Africans has our unique "Mandela Memory".....

Cedric and Chris Poole at Nelson Mandela Square, Johannesburg first real "Mandela Memory" was on arriving for my first year of dental studies at Wits University (Johannesburg) in 1978 (18 months after the June 16 Soweto Uprising) and being confronted with the Free Mandela CampaignI am ashamed to say now that at that time, as an 18 year old South African boy, I knew little or nothing about Nelson Mandela. Whether I can blame the government of the day for
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 this or not is a moot point.  Yes, it was illegal to quote him as he was a banned person....yes, my history lessons throughout my schooling had never mentioned him, and yes, what little I did know of him, from government propaganda, was that he was a terrorist and, to make it worse, he was a communist! These were the two biggest threats to civilized life as we (white) teenagers understood it. So, arriving at Wits University as a "well educated" young adult and being confronted on day one of orientation week with the Free Mandela Campaign (which of course was a totally illegal campaign and was closely watched by BOSS, the Bureau of State Security, which, it later came to light, followed up on those who showed an interest in the campaign and identified them as potential dangers to the State)  was really the beginning of my political awakening. I am further ashamed to confess that my allegiances were more with the Free Beer Campaign than the Free Mandela Campaign, but, I realise now..........something did begin to change in the Free State boytjie who arrived at Wits that year. 

So that counts as my first "Mandela Memory" of significance.

My second "Mandela Memory" of significance is without a doubt the announcement of his impending
release: I believe most Americans can remember exactly where they were when they heard of the assassination of JFK, and more recently, where they were when they heard about 9/11. Well, in a similar way, I remember just where I was when I heard of Nelson Mandela's planned release.....I was just up the road from my dental practice in Pietermaritzburg, driving past the OK Bazaars in Boshoff Street and I remember thinking....even though you want to, this isn't the  safest place to celebrate by jumping out the car and shouting Hooray! Pietermaritzburg, which was the capital of the province Natal, which in turn was the stronghold of the Inkatha movement which was the strongest "black" opposition to the (banned) ANC, did not respond very well to the news of Mandela's release. I remember wondering on that Friday afternoon at the beginning of February 1990 what this would lead to in my beloved South Africa.

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My third "Mandela Memory" would have to be watching his release about 10 days later on a Sunday afternoon on national television....the images remain vividly imprinted on (I think) all our minds as South do some of the quite inane things said by the TV commentators such as "the people are drinking water here like it's going out of fashion"!

My fourth Mandela Memory would have to be queuing to vote in our first democratic elections just 4 weeks after going into my first appointment as a Methodist minister and thinking...a new life for our country and a new life for me. 

Fifth would be Nelson Mandela's inauguration as our State President and once again a vivid recollection of seeing one of our SA Defence Force generals (I think Georg Meiring, but I stand to be corrected) opening the door of his limousine,saluting him and saying "Good morning, Sir" and Nelson Mandela responding with a booming "How are you?"
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The closest I have yet been to Madiba (other than driving past his home in Houghton) was when he was the guest speaker at the Methodist Conference at which I was ordained in 1998 (read his full address here) in Durban. While he said much, these two things remain embedded in my mind, and, I hope, in my ministry:

What South Africa needs now is not only good government and good laws. We
need people who are committed to making this the country of our dreams. And we
need religious people who live their faith....


We count on the religious fraternity to help us restore the moral values and
the respect for each other that were destroyed by the inhumanity of apartheid.

Our Presiding Bishop, Mvume Dandala, also presided over the marriage of Madiba to Graca Machel on the Saturday before our ordination service on the Sunday.

A final "Mandela Memory", and one which I wish the MCSA and other religious bodies he appealed to would live up to, is the address President Nelson Mandela gave to our Conference in 1994, (read it here) just a few months after his inauguration as State President: 

South Africa now has a democratic government representative of, and accountable to, all the people. By your fearless commitment to truth and justice, the Methodist Church and other religious bodies helped realise  this. But all governments, no matter how democratic, need constructive criticism and advice. I ask you to continue to play your prophetic role, always seeking to hold the nation and all its leaders to the highest standards of integrity and service.

History since this appeal made by Nelson Mandela to the MCSA, records that we, and the other religious bodies he appealed to, let him down. Where was our indignant and prophetic voice, for example, while the lambs of our nation were denied life saving anti-retro-viral treatment, leading to hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths (all of this after he left office, please note)?

Where was my voice, I ask myself, and what ought I to learn from the example that Nelson Mandela set us?

We may have let Nelson Mandela down, but, praise God, he never let us down.

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