Nelson Mandela died, at the age of 95, on the 5th of December, 2013. South African President Jacob Zuma declared a national day of mourning on the 8th of December. This image depicts the scene in front of Madiba’s home—in Houghton, Johannesburg, South Africa—on the national day of mourning. It depicts just one example of Mandela's influence, where a crowd of blacks and whites join together to mark his passing. Image by Rob Dennison; license: CC BY-SA 2.0
Nelson Mandela is part of the Madiba clan. When people call him “Madiba,” they are expressing both affection and respect for an elder of his clan and the father of South Africa.
It was not always thus.
Afrikaners, such as Francois Pienaar and his Springbok teammates, could not have foretold how their lives would become entwined with that of a black South African - especially someone who once advocated violent resistance against the white-enacted laws of apartheid.
And ... who, among South Africa’s white families, could have believed reconciliation was possible in their country - without a revenge-taking, violent civil war?
Yet ... love and forgiveness is possible, even on a country-wide scale, depending on the nation’s leaders. The long-feared backlash did not happen, although significant issues remain.
He was born to do what he's doing. I think Providence sat on his shoulder at an early age … If you talk to him, I'm not sure I should tell all this, but, all of this world renown and glory sits on him, on one side of him. Over here, he feels like he's a complete failure because of what his family had to pay.
His family’s price includes two divorced wives and children who were unable to see (let alone know) their father for decades. As Mandela himself has referenced, when one is father to all, he is less a father to his own:
In that way, my commitment to my people, to the millions of South Africans I would never know or meet, was at the expense of the people I knew best and loved most. (Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, page 623.)
The bond that Mandela formed with Pienaar (who married his girlfriend Nerine Winter) is still intact. They remain close, and Mandela is godfather to Jean Pienaar, one of Francois’ two sons.
Each in his own way, the two men had worked together to unify their nation. As Francois describes the country’s post-win response, he uses awestruck words:
It was just unbelievable on the streets of South Africa. For the first time all the people had come together and all races and religions were hugging each other.
There is something else which cements the bond between Madiba and Pienaar: a rugby shirt. When Mandela (happily married to Graca Machel) took the field at Ellis Park, just before the World Cup final began, he was wearing a Springbok jersey.
What number had he picked? Number 6.
To whom was number 6 assigned? To Francois Pienaar.
For many more years, after the nation-healing Rugby Match, Nelson Mandela continued to inspire people all around the world. Madiba breathed his last on the 5th of December, 2013. Announcing the death of South Africa's beloved leader, President Jacob Zuma said:
Our nation has lost its greatest son...What made Nelson Mandela great was precisely what made him human. We saw in him what we seek in ourselves...Fellow South Africans, Nelson Mandela brought us together and it is together that we will bid him farewell.
And so will the rest of the world.
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