It’s only fitting to use my last post of the year to say goodbye to our nation’s hero.
I was one of the fearless who braved the weather on Tuesday with a dear friend, to attend the State Memorial Service for Madiba. I wanted to celebrate his life and shed a few tears saying farewell to my hero too.
Kate fetched me at 4am and we drove through the fine drizzle to Park Station to catch the promised train ride to the Calabash. On arrival we were met by a small funky group of “Black Diamonds” who instantly took us under their wings and told us that the first train was only due at 6am, but they knew of a Park & Ride in Simmonds Street. So, in convoy, we followed our trendy new friends, until we finally found the Standard Bank parking venue. I was expecting busses to be waiting to transport us from there, silly me. We five had to walk in the fine rain to Commisioner Street where we found the Rea Vaya station in complete darkness, still locked up, with not a soul in sight. So we set off in search of transport. Fortunately a few blocks further up Commisioner Street we found another Rea Vaya station, still locked, but with staff standing around and another young man also looking for transport. They told us a bus was due at 5:30am so we decided to wait for it.
The station started filling up and then we noticed that we were opposite Walter Sisulu House, which started the celebratory atmosphere. At that stage, Kate and I, being the only “Whiteys” present were called upon to pose in loads of photos with everyone. I was really beginning to enjoy the atmosphere that was building.
When the bus arrived, we all squashed on and the whole bus load of people spontaneously broke into song, which continued all the way to the FNB Stadium. It was an electrifying atmosphere and I could not help but join in with great jubilation. A BBC film crew pushed their way to the front of the bus and began interviewing people, including Kate and myself. A great start to a long day.
We finally arrived at the stadium just before 6am and danced and sang our way from the station to the gates of the stadium, waiting in the rain with more song and dance. Everyone was in high spirits and there was a feeling of ubuntu as the gates remained closed at 6am, not opened as promised. No problem to the throngs, just keep singing.
Finally the gates were opened and everyone charged into the stadium, only to find the turnstiles were locked and, yet again, we had to wait. Despite the rain, spirits were still not dampened. Again, we found ourselves being interviewed, this time by a Mauritian TV station. And finally the turnstiles were opened and we poured into the stadium. Kate and I ran to get up high under the cover, so as not to sit in the rain. We were exhausted, but satisfied and happy. Seeing as there was very little, if any, in the form of catering we had brought our own little food packs, so out came our sandwiches and we munched our breakfast merrily and drank our coffee to warm our wet bodies.
Then the singing began and it was truly electrifying. Spontaneous bursts of freedom songs, which I am still singing in my head, that was taken up and sung around the stadium, with actions, dancing, stamping and flag waving. What an awesome experience. I was convinced that this was going to be a day to go down in the annals of history.
For the next few hours I felt like a journalist as we watched the bizarre and amazing scene unfurl around us. The atmosphere was incredible until the official programme began and then it quickly slid downhill as speech after boring speech droned on and the wet crowd who had come to celebrate and mourn their national hero became restless and annoyed. The booing of Zuma was astounding, then amusing, then completely embarrassing. I cannot bear his leadership, but I even started to feel sorry for him. I recorded everything on my Facebook and Twitter pages and found myself chatting to people from Dubai, England, Ireland, the United States and all across South Africa. In the stadium we met wonderful people sitting around us and everybody had their two cents worth to chip in.
I could go on and on, but I fear that I shall bore you. Suffice it to say that it was a memorable and extraordinary day that will indeed go down in history, but not for the reasons that I originally thought. I had anticipated going to bid Madiba farewell and experiencing grief and celebration. I fully expected to spend the day in tears and deliberately wore no mascara. Instead, I found myself chuckling hysterically through much of the service. I realised that I do not know the people of my nation at all and that there are still huge cultural gaps. Even though I was an activist mixing with all races from a young age during apartheid South Africa, I do not fully understand many of the people of this wonderful nation. I realised that I love this nation with all of it’s quirkiness, faults and problems deeper than I thought I did. I realised that I really do have to be a part of the solution to South Africa. I also felt robbed. I felt like the world took our day of memorial and turned it into a political rhetoric, all sprouting the same eulogies without much feeling. I sure that they meant what they said, but it just had no passion. We, the people, wanted to sing. We wanted to cry. We wanted to be much more of a part of the proceedings. At least we have these few days to bid Madiba farewell in Pretoria.
I finally returned home by 6:30pm, elated, disappointed and exhausted. I know that Madiba was a mortal man, however his dreams for this nation are well worth pursuing and I am glad that I could be a part of history and say farewell, even if it was not quite what I was expecting. I will never forget the experience and it was truly enlightening to me. South Africa, let’s stand together and go forward. We are an amazing nation of diverse, crazy, intense, opinionated, strong and fun-filled people. And may we never lose that.
Farewell Tata Madiba.
By Karen Lancaster