Thank You Tata

Years ago I watched a remarkable documentary on Tata Mandela. It was profound and an amazing picture of his life.

The film ended with Tata saying he believed he’d fought a good fight. His parting words in the documentary seemed to be a final goodbye- I mourned him then.

I cried and allowed myself to feel the weight of a world without him- I thanked him for giving me the opportunity to live in this awesome country and I thanked him for the freedom to become whoever I chose to be with virtually no limitations.

I was sad that I’d never met him in person or spoken face to face with him.

My closest contact to him came when I was as a young student many years ago at 46664 concert album launch. I saw him in person… albeit from a few feet away.

When he came onto the stage I cried. His presence was overwhelming. It was majestic and yet inspired compassion, generosity, insane humility, love, the power to dream, joy and what it meant to truly live a life full of purpose.

When my dear friend called me a few days ago, completely distraught by his passing- she told me how she felt no right to mourn him because of her background and her race- I told her that in mourning him she honoured him because the fact that she could  mourn him meant that he had achieved the South Africa for which he had stated he was prepared to die: A South Africa where a black girl like me could so deeply connect with her, my white, Afrikaans friend. A South Africa where two people like us who were so vastly different could openly share such a powerful bond of love and reverence for one another.

Not many people achieve their dreams… Tata Mandela did. And I hope that, despite some of the embarrassing circus that marred his memorial service this week, we could in our own selves not fail to honour the man he was.

I hope we don’t cease to be grateful for the South Africa we now have. The South Africa he fought for.

Many, many, people fought unbelievably hard so we could enjoy what we have now.  Let us never take that for granted.

I’ve heard some people call Mandela a sell-out for how largely he embraced those that persecuted him and the millions of other once oppressed South Africans.  I can’t speak to that-  In all honesty I’ve had far too much of a privileged life to have any right to speak to that-  but in my own opinion that WAS  the largeness of Tata’s life- that he could show love to his enemies and he did!

Even if ever there were moments of his actions being only for public good, despite his own sentiments- I believe that  truly is the hallmark of true leader-  that they have the humility to stoop down- wash filthy feet as mere servants so that those they serve can look at one another and see humanity in “the other”  through the leader that stooped down to serve them all as equals.

Some say we will never have another Mandela. I agree.  But I see his life in my freedom, I see his life in my marriage that would have once upon a time sent me to jail, I see his life in my children who are remarkable and won’t have to explain their skin in fear ever, I see his life in my awesome Church fellowship and the amazing friends I’ve made there- friends I can truly call brothers and sisters. Not too long ago us worshiping together the way we do now would have never been possible because of our skin.

I see Tata’s life in my career that has allowed me to see parts of the world I would never have ventured had I not had the opportunities afforded me by the South Africa he fought for- All my life I will see his life in so many aspects of my own life and I will see his life in the many people who impact me- regardless of colour. Because he chose the very unpopular path of embracing, showing love and living out forgiveness.

I do believe there was a part of Tata none of us ever got to see. And that’s fine- I think if he did, he deserved to keep a tiny bit of himself for himself- even though I believe he really did pour himself out entirely for us all.

During the latter part of his life it disgusted me how so many people dishonoured him even by the way they sucked photo ops out of him. It was clear that some who took photos with him, especially in the latter days of his life, didn’t care for the man he was. All they cared for was going back to their colleagues and friends to show that they  had been with the great Mandela. What nonsense! And yet he humbly allowed photo ops even though it was so clear to see that he was tired and was desperate for solitude and rest.

He gave and gave until he was far too spent to give anymore. That’s what I’ll always remember about him: How generous he was. To a very large extent I think we his people at times didn’t honour that. He had given us so much and yet we continued to milk him instead of respectfully whisper “Thank You Tata” and allow him time to rest from all his labour.

Tata’s daughter, Zindzi Mandela, had interviewed her dad a while ago. In that interview she asked him what he would’ve liked to have been remembered for.

He said there wasn’t any one thing he would highlight because one must leave their legacy to the community and it is the community that should decide what that person will be remembered for. Tata didn’t even stake a claim on his own legacy! He left that to us!

I choose to remember him as an extremely generous giver.

Many people remember his humility.

Many years ago, as a young girl in high school, I remember Oprah interviewing Tata and she talked about how, prior to the interview with him, while they’d been backstage, he’d asked her what her show would be about that day! It didn’t occur to him that HE would be  the show!

If only leaders all over the world would live their lives with that kind of sincere humility- serving their people instead of milking them and instead of constantly seeking self glory, praise (worship even) they’d seek the upliftment of the people they serve. That was how Tata led and lived.

He was always eager to talk about the efforts, contributions, sacrifices and achievements of others during The Struggle.
In his interview with his daughter Tata Mandela remembered Tata Sisulu who led with such humility and never sought self-glory.

Tata Mandela remembered Tata Sisulu as someone who never sought position but led from behind- and yet when there was danger he would come to the helm and lead from the frontlines…  These are the greats from which our incredible nation was birthed- let us not forget who we come from.

In a way I’m glad that through that amazing documentary of his life I was awarded the opportunity to honour Tata and say goodbye to him in a more intimate manner so many years ago.

It was as though that was the one and only conversation I would ever have with him. Through that film he sat next to me on my living room couch and told me of his life. Him and I celebrated the life he’d lived and I thanked him, said goodbye to him- and I remember actually saying “Goodbye Tata”. And then for the days that followed I mourned him.

This may sound strange and morbid. For some this may even sound disrespectful- but that’s what I did. And that time will never be taken from me because it was pure and it was true.

My goodbye to Tata was not tainted by drama and politicking or incompetence and tomfoolery- and because of that wonderful unencumbered Goodbye I chose to steer clear of all that transpired this past week. I have instead carried on with my life and purpose as Tata Mandela often did in the face of loss and tragedy.

It is beyond tragic that some of what has been highlighted during this time has been such  a joke.

I’ve noticed that some of us have been more worried about what the world would think of some of the behaviour that occurred at Tata’s memorial service rather than being so outraged that nonsense like that diluted our final goodbye to this man who gave us so much!

But that’s all just fluff. And none of it takes away what we as South Africa had in Mandela. Nor does it take away what he’s left us with and for us.

The day will come when we’ll forget that it rained when so many gathered to say goodbye to him. We’ll probably forget the dignitaries we saw at his memorial. We’re very likely to forget what was said by those who spoke at the ceremony. I can almost guarantee that there will come a time we’ll forget the booing and the fake language interpreter… All these things we’ll forget. But what we’ll never forget is who Tata Mandela was to us, how he made us feel and the South Africa he stood for and inspired us to believe in.

Thank you again Tata for your life and giving it so generously without reserve so that we may have so many things you never had. That  is the hall mark of a true father. One who fights to give his children a far better life than he ever had. Tata you gave us that. A great father leaves his children an inheritance. What an inheritance you left us! Thank You Tata. Thank You.

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