Monday, 1 July 2013

Why Mr Mandela Is So Important: A Letter to my Three-Year-Old

Photo accessed from The Guardian: 

To my dearest sweetheart,

An icon of our (mommy’s & daddy’s) time, Mr Rolihlahla “Nelson” Mandela, is lying very ill in hospital at the moment. When mommy and daddy were growing up in Cape Town (we did not know one another then), the government at the time thought it would be a good idea to force people to segregate and live apart. This meant that depending on your skin colour, you would either have access to the best education, the best housing, the nicest places Cape Town and the rest of the country had to offer, as well as the nicest beaches or not. You see, people of colour (Blacks, Indians, Coloureds) were not allowed full access to the luxuries as well as some very basic necessities that us white South Africans were. I remember very clearly the day we were expecting our first non-white South African to enter through the doors of the primary school which I attended. The week before this “event” was due to take place, the headmaster called us all into the assembly hall, sat us down, along with all the staff, and announced that a girl of Indian origin would be joining us on the following Monday. I really could not understand, nor appreciate, the enormity of this announcement (along with how ridiculous it seems today). My mom and dad never subscribed to these laws which the government dictated to us so I was blessed to grow up in a home where Leticia (a black South African lady) and her grandson, Thembolani, or Thembi as I called him, lived with us. Having black South Africans working for white families was not unusual, and it still isn’t today, but what was unusual, was that Granny and Grandpa never made us feel that Leticia or Themi where any different; quite simply, because they were not (despite what the government was trying to instil in us as white South Africans).

So why is Madiba (this is what we fondly know Mr Mandela as) important to daddy? Well, in 1990 when he was released from prison, and in 1994 when he became our first black president, he, single-handedly in daddy’s opinion, stopped us suffering from a civil war. I remember when he was released. There was a real uncertainty amongst the white South Africans as to what was going to happen to us. Nothing did. Then, in 1994 during the first democratic elections in South Africa, those uncertainties reared their head once again. This time, we got a whole week off school because the officials were anxious that political unrest would ensue. We were told to stay in our homes. A few friends and I decided that on the Thursday (which may have been the 1st day of elections) we would go out and play some soccer on my high school’s main field which bordered the boundary of granny and grandpa’s house. We had been kicking the ball around for a few minutes, when an armed guard, holding an M16 rifle, told us that we should go back to our houses. This was so strange given that the school was in an affluent, middle class, “white” area. The reason it was so heavily guarded, I guess, was that it was a government school building which (possibly) represented the inequalities of education during the apartheid era.

The media often shows us pictures of non-white South Africans being whipped on the streets and shot at, but growing up in Cape Town, we never witnessed this. I am not suggesting that it did not happen, but it was not the norm. South Africa at the time was a very peaceful place to grow up in - or so we thought.  Unfortunately, it was at the expense of so many fellow South Africans that us white South Africans had such a seemingly care-free life.

I strongly urge you to read Mr Mandela’s “A long walk to freedom” when you come of age. It’ll help you to understand exactly what was going on at the time and appreciate what a brilliant man he is. Daddy is very proud to be an African and it’s important that we remember Mr Mandela and his gift to our country so that we don’t walk down the road of inequality ever again.

**I recently read a similar blog which is beautifully written.  It is sincere in its delivery and casts a real sense of Mr Mandela's remarkable legacy...check it out here. Written by Natasha Clarke from her "Raising Men" blog** 



  1. Great post! I really liked reading it and made me wonder about what sorts of issues and people I'll end up telling my 10 week old about when he's older. I remember studying the end of apartheid at secondary school during the mid-90s and it was fascinating to read your first hand perspective on it all and what it meant to you.

  2. Great post. I'm still not sure if explaining complex issues to our kids is really difficult, or if when we explain these things we realize how simple and straight forward they really are.

  3. I read the book that you are referring too. He really was a remarkable man whose accomplishments will live on forever.


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