Reactions from South Africa to the Passing of Nelson Mandela | Freedom House

Reactions from South Africa to the Passing of Nelson Mandela

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Messages of goodwill written to Nelson Mandela on a pillar in Rosebank, Johannesburg, as his health declined in mid-2013

People all around the world are mourning the loss of Nelson Mandela, but it is in South Africa—the country he helped to liberate from oppression—that the loss is most keenly felt. In this blog post, staff members from Freedom House’s Johannesburg office have shared what Mandela means to them and their reactions to his passing.

“We all knew that this day was going to come, the day Madiba will take his last long walk, this time into the great beyond. But for some reason I feel the news of his passing caught me unprepared and not ready to accept that finally it’s over—that our greatest human victory, Madiba, has truly left us. I had the privilege of meeting Madiba during my short stint working for his wife, Graca Machel. I have often described that encounter as spiritual, and I recall how all I could manage to say to him were a few incoherent thank-yous. What do you say to a man who gave up 27 years of his life for an ideal that seemed illusive to his fellow South Africans? Madiba, [we] thank whatever gods may be for [your] unconquerable soul—for it is on your shoulders that our collective mettle as a people and as human rights defenders stands free and firm, fighting for democratic and free societies. May you rest in perfect peace, Madiba.”

—Juliet Mureriwa, Senior Program Officer


“Tata Madiba means a lot to me. He is an icon of reconciliation. He has done so much in life, surrendered his life for what he believed in. Madiba spent 27 years in prison but became the first president of South Africa. He brought freedom and opportunities to the people of South Africa. That is why he is an ambassador to me. One of the memories that I personally will never forget is that he brought one of the biggest events in the world to South Africa: World Cup 2010. To me the World Cup was a dream come true for all African countries. Madiba will always be remembered for his humility, one that shaped the way for freedom around the world. May his soul rest in peace!”

—Precious Dube, Office Manager


“To me, Mandela means life. I am a by-product of his efforts, which eventually provided people like my mother with an opportunity to represent their government, secure a better education for their children, travel overseas and broaden their horizons, and show their children that there is much more to life. As such I am a symbol of his legacy. On a more personal level, in 1996 when I was 10, I had the opportunity to meet Mandela, and I even had a brief conversation with him about who would smile more at the official photo-op. That meeting reaffirmed my belief that Mandela was the consummate father figure to every South African, especially to young black boys like myself who had grown up in single-parent households. He was humble and could relate on a personal level to everyone he came in contact with, regardless of whether it was a statesman or a small 10-year-old boy from Mafikeng.”

—Ipeleng Bosilong, Program Officer


“To me, Nelson Mandela is a man, father, grandfather, and leader who led by example, action, with passion and positive influence, and not by virtue of the position he held. He had his own way of leading. To others, leadership is demonstrated by hitting over the head. To him, leadership was pointing the way to final victory in a positive but influential manner. He never led by power nor might, but with love and compassion. His leadership skills were based on spiritual quality. He had the power to influence others to follow him. Mandela’s leadership skills are contagious. They will remain and will be passed from generation to generation. I personally have learnt a lot from his leadership skills; have applied them and will continue to apply them. He will be greatly missed.”

—Martha Gcambatsha, Senior Finance Officer


“This quote from Nelson Mandela best describes what Tata means to me: ‘I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal, which I hope to live for and to achieve. But, if need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.’ Mandela is a man willing and determined to fight for what he believed in; his patience and resilience surpassed that of many men. He is a humble man with great tenacity and strength. Two lessons that I learnt from Madiba; ‘anything I believe in is worth fighting and dying for’ and ‘it only takes one person with strong willpower and the art of forgiveness to change the world.’ May the heavens accept his angelic soul.”

—Tshegofatso Diphukwane, Intern


“My heart is really hurting, I feel like I have lost a family member. To me he was my inspiration; I have learnt so much from his work in terms of literature and his speeches. I have learnt the importance of forgiveness. To me he was a father, grandfather, and someone to look up to when nothing was making sense in my life. Rest in Peace Tata!!”

—Tshepiso Noge, Finance Officer


“My walk to the Pretoria train station today was a somber affair. The streets that are usually littered with noisy human traffic were silent, and the few people I saw had blank weary expressions on their faces. On the train the lady seated opposite me, before alighting at the station before mine, touched my shoulder and told me to ‘take heart.’ If you grew up on the African continent from a young age, you got to know who Mandela is, you didn’t have to go to school to know about him; it was part of your primary socialization, sort of like religion. Mandela is a symbol of all that is good, what humankind ought to be. I am battling to explain my feelings today; I am sad that he’s gone, but at the same time I am also at ease. In his own words: ‘Death is something inevitable. When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort and that is, therefore, why I will sleep for the eternity.’ Hamba Kahle Madiba, we are grateful.”

—Mpangi Kwenge, Project Associate

Analyses and recommendations offered by the authors do not necessarily reflect those of Freedom House.

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