A LETTER TO TATA NELSON MANDELA
From your forgotten grand-daughter.
Not sure where to start – so much has been said about you from all corners of the world by those who knew you, claimed to know you and from everyone who admired you around the world. Anyone who has a voice has said their piece, claimed a piece of you and ripped you apart into all kinds of objects and mementos, from bank notes to t-shirts, skirts, shops, street names, township names, shopping malls, even the ground I walk on. Tata you truly are legendary. I have watched silently from a distance, jealous of course of all the time that these people got to spend with you. I am hurting so much – because I have been so angry with you for a very long time, because I never understood you, I never understood why you took the decisions you did, why you spent so much time with everyone else but me. But now I understand, even though it hurts to admit, that they needed you more than I did. For the past ten days I have gone through all manner of emotions imaginable, from anger, sadness, joy, indifference, pain, disgust, disbelief, madness, grief, delirium you name it. I felt as if once again I have been silenced; my voice drowned out by the loud trumpets announcing your passing which screeched from every imaginable crevice of this country, I have Mandela coming out of my pores. People can be so cruel when they think they are the only ones in pain. Everyone knows so much more about you, everybody knows what you think, how you felt, how you would want them to think to feel about everything. I have been trying to run away from you, but you are every-where – I go. Everywhere I look. The radio has been all about you, TV, newspapers, conversations, street lamps and post. Someone said I should look for you, but now it seems I don’t have to look anymore for you. You are everywhere I go. Maybe you’ve been trying to get my attention and what a way to do it. You’ve got my full attention now.
Can you imagine I had to become a journalist just so I could be near you? Close to you, follow you around? Be in your presence? I laugh about it sometimes. I thought everyone else was crazy for claiming you as their father, grandfather, their leader, their liberator, their this and that. How could one single living human being be everything to everyone? I still struggle to remain true to myself let alone the entire universe. But I guess I was the crazy one for refusing to see the truth. I remember our brief conversation about politics. I was still angry with you then, my anger masked by a mix of admiration fear, awe and sadness. I remember once I was forced no, let me say coerced into a conversation about you with Cornel West. He asked me about you and I told him and everyone who could listen that I didn’t care about you. That you were nothing to me, in some ways it was true in others in was a complete and utter lie because I loved you, love you now more than the first time I knew that your name was not Manelo. And then came that time when you asked me if I had registered to vote and I said yes. You asked me who I would vote for. I knew you were joking with me, but I didn’t have a sense of humour at the time. I couldn’t imagine why on earth you would want to discuss such private family matters in front of all those people when you knew very well that I couldn’t be a card-carrying member of any political party because of my job. But thank you for saving me from myself. You shielded me and made it a huge joke; everyone says you were such a joker in your later years.
Today I am filled with gratitude, because even though we never had a normal grandfather and granddaughter relationship, even though I spent the past 32 years living in your shadow, you were still with me everywhere I went. You opened doors for me everywhere I went, just by your name. Where ever I travelled when people heard that I was from “Mandela land” they would go out of their way to make me comfortable and to feel at home. You have shielded me in war zones, in dangerous places and saved me more than once from myself. In 2008 I took off my journalist jacket and decided to follow you to London at the 46664 AIDs Benefit Concert in Hyde Park London, I was so proud of what you tried to do. It was your last public appearance and I was there among the roaring crowds as myself, off duty. I thought it was so sweet how you protected Amy Winehouse and held her hand through a dark period in her life. I fell in love with you then, how gentle you had grown to be. Last year when you were admitted to hospital, I grieved for you, I shaved my hair and decided to leave this country because I just couldn’t imagine living here without you. I arrived in Dakar, Senegal, naked, to everyone I sounded Senegalese, but one man took one look at me and said – You look like Mandela. I laughed for days, because in all my living years, no-one has ever said that to me – you found me in a place of utter hopelessness. When things didn’t work out I found myself back here again in this country I love so much, that has brought out the worst and best of me. I didn’t understand why. Now I know that I needed to be home for such a time as this. I was even more frustrated when journalism couldn’t bring me any nearer to your bed-side, at your home in Houghton, I felt like an outsider looking in, invisible. But now I understand that it was meant to be this way, how can a granddaughter report on the passing of their grandfather? I can be so silly sometimes.
It is a bitter-sweet moment for me, Tata, in the past ten days I learnt so much about you, it is as if you were showing me again who you are, not anyone’s version of you, but really who you are. How it was for you when you were barred from attending the signing of the 1955 freedom charter, the drawing up of which you worked so hard to achieve. I began to understand in real terms how difficult it must have been to face your enemy and forgive them, sit with them at the negotiating table, to reach out to someone you knew hated you and would kill you given the chance. You taught me what it is to fight – hatred with love, because love is the only thing that saves. Through the work of Cheryl Pillay, you showed me your ideas of restorative justice – how love and forgiveness is the only thing that can turn someone around, the only thing that can change people’s minds and hearts. Unconditional love. You showed me that even though at times everything and everyone may seem to be against you, if you hold on to love things do work out in the end. And oh so Beautifully too. Violence has never and will never be the answer, I am so glad you changed your mind about that too while in prison. So proud of you.
Today I have so much to be grateful for, not only have I met the man of my dreams, the one I asked for, a man who loves music, who loves art, respects the spirit world and thinks with his heart, I am also starting a new job. My dreams are coming true at a time when I had given up hope, when I said goodbye to so many of them. My dreams are coming true because you died. And it is a sad reality for me. Thank you for the small stolen moments, when I was so close to you I could hug you. Thank you for trying to do what was best for everyone, and being selfless at a time when you had every right to be selfish. I know you were just as human as me and that it is only our creator who lifted you to where you are, and to who you have become to billions upon billion, imagine!? It it only our creator who could have given you the power and strength to go against the grain and alone in love, when loving was probably the last thing you wanted to do. Thank you granddad, Tata, for freedom, now I can come out and be myself again, because I know now that you’ve got my back for real. I don’t need a picture with you or any proof what so ever – that you are mine- blood is thicker than water. Your spirit will live on in me and through me and through everyone you’ve touched with your exemplary life. The road ahead will not be easy as you know, but I know that you are in a much better place to help me when I need it. Even though I knew it was your time I am still sad that you left, because it was good to know that you were hanging out somewhere having fun. Or that I could meet you one day on assignment.
People kept saying to me, because I can be very timid believe it or not, that confidence comes with knowing who you are. I am glad to finally know who I am. It brings joy to my tears to know that despite what I thought you never forgot me. That you loved me even when I thought the worst of you.
Did I tell you have a million dollar smile? That melts my heart still today? You do. I will hold on to that smile. Apparently I have a million dollar smile too, according to mom. So each time I think of you, I will smile. Because what you have given me is a beautiful gift. I will never stop smiling. Never stop loving. And I have you and Love to thank for that.