Dan Moshenberg is an associate professor of English and director of the women’s studies program.
In 1995, my wife, son and I spent a little over six months in Cape Town, South Africa. It was a heady time. Giants roamed the earth, often right around the corner, sometimes in the same room. Madiba aka Nelson Mandela. Walter Sisulu. Albertina Sisulu. Govan Mbeki. Sister Bernard Ncube. The list goes on.
The Rugby World Cup was on. The RDP, the Reconstruction and Development Programme, was in its most intense moments. Women were organizing. Workers, students, gay and lesbian people were on the move. Those living with HIV/AIDS were organizing like crazy. Everybody was organizing. And the Golden Arrow buses, the bus for us, encouraged everyone to smile.
South Africa was one big hopeful project, and so much of that hope passed through the body of Nelson Mandela. He helped people of all communities and persuasions focus the light of hope into the fire of transformation. While the policies of Madiba’s own government and those that have followed have often worked precisely against the hopes of the marginalized, the violated, the disenfranchised, today we remember him.
In 1995, my family and I were watching the talk show, “People of the South.” That evening, Madiba was to be the guest. Madiba talked for a while, about the government, about hopes for the future, about their families.
And then the host introduced the next guest, Germaine Jackson. Jackson entered. Madiba stood up, shook his hand, looked him straight in the eyes and said, in his unforgettable voice and manner, “I have always been a great fan of yours.”
And he meant it.
That is Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, better known as Madiba. During the 27 years of imprisonment, he was organizing and teaching and leading, always by example, while dancing and singing to the Jackson 5.
Nelson Mandela brought dignity, humor, principle, humanity, great shirts and an extraordinary, almost magical, transformative capacity to every encounter: as a young lawyer and boxer, as a representative of the African National Congress, as a founder of the armed wing of the anti-apartheid struggle, as a prisoner, as a democratically elected President and finally as an elder.
He touched each of us, and for that reason, he is loved. We remember. Hamba kahle, Madiba.