A world with­out Man­dela, but a life­time of hope for all of us

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NELSON MANDELA 1918-2013 - RID­WAAN BAWA

IT WAS from Twit­ter that I first re­alised the time had prob­a­bly come.

Re­ports of fam­ily mem­bers gath­er­ing at Madiba’s home in Houghton, Jo­han­nes­burg, be­came more per­sis­tent as the night grew long and dark on Thurs­day, and I fell into a fit­ful sleep, fear­ing what lay in wait when I woke.

Yes­ter­day morn­ing, just af­ter five, with three chil­dren al­ready up and primed for an at­tack on the day ahead, Shi­haam roused me with the words the world had hoped to never hear: “Madiba has died.”

I felt like turn­ing over and go­ing back to sleep for a long, long time, putting off the need to con­tem­plate a world with­out Nel­son Man­dela. Yes, he had long ago re­tired from pub­lic life, and been in ill health for a while, but the fi­nal­ity of his pass­ing was still a ham­mer blow. And it was one I would pre­fer to have re­ceived while back at home, rather than thou­sands of kilo­me­tres away in Qatar. But death doesn’t al­ways take dis­tance, or com­pas­sion, into ac­count be­fore strik­ing.

As I strug­gled to pull my­self out of bed, I re­mem­bered an ex­change with a cou­ple of my Egyp­tian col- leagues a few months ago, dur­ing the pe­riod that Madiba was spend­ing pe­ri­ods of time in hos­pi­tal.

At a gath­er­ing at my house, the talk turned to the strife in Egypt and the protests in their home­land, which had cul­mi­nated in the re­moval of Mo­hamed Mursi as pres­i­dent. Mah­moud, who has been in Qatar for al­most two years, but whose fam­ily still lives in Cairo, told me: “Rid­waan, right now, Egypt is di­vided. To bring us to­gether, we need to find our own Man­dela.”

I wanted to tell Mah­moud and his fel­low Egyp­tians, in­deed ev­ery­one present, that Man­dela was unique, that there would never be another like him. In­stead, I smiled and agreed, and said that Egypt would hope­fully find their own great na­tion builder. One who, like Man­dela, un­der­stood that in the af­ter­math of a rev­o­lu­tion, there needed to be a coun­try to gov­ern.

“And to­day is Man­dela’s birth­day, and he is in hos­pi­tal,” said Mah­moud. “How old is he?”

“He is 95,” I replied. Madiba did not live to see 96, like we had all hoped. But what he did do was give us enough hope to last a life­time. But it’s up to us, in South Africa, Egypt, Qatar and through­out the world, to turn that hope into re­al­ity, to carry on his legacy. Per­haps, col­lec­tively, hu­man­ity can rise to the chal­lenge of the ex­am­ple he set.

As I fi­nally gath­ered the strength to face the day, and days ahead, I ran into Aqeel. Or, rather, he ran into me – lit­er­ally. “Aqeel, slowly my boy. Come and sit down. I want to talk to you.”

At the age of six, and hav­ing left South Africa at 4, Aqeel nat­u­rally has a bet­ter grasp of his roots than Saabi­rah, his three-year-old sis­ter, or Yaqeen, his one-year-old brother. “Aqeel, did mom speak to you about Nel­son Man­dela?”

He sat qui­etly, and replied: “Yes, she said he died last night. He was 95, very old, and was sick for a long time. Noth­ing bad hap­pened to him. He was just very old.”

I nod­ded. “And do you re­mem­ber what we told you about him? About ev­ery­thing that he did for South Africa? About how he helped us un­der­stand what was right, and what was wrong, and how ev­ery­one should live to­gether peace­fully and act fairly?”

This time, it was Aqeel’s turn to nod. “I re­mem­ber. But dad, who is go­ing to show us what’s right, now that he’s dead?”

All I wanted to do was crawl back into bed again. But I knew the ques­tion would still be there when I woke up, and that it would not be only on Aqeel’s mind.

“We all know what’s right, Aqeel, we just have to make sure we do it. Some­times it’s not easy, but it’s al­ways worth the ef­fort. And we can all help each other.”

That last bit seemed to be what he was look­ing for. And why not, none of us is go­ing to be able to em­u­late Madiba on our own. But to­gether, per­haps we can come close.

Fol­low Bawa on Twit­ter @rid­waan­bawa

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