I awoke this morning at 5:30 am to Aatish gently whispering to me that Madiba had passed away. I was immediately overcome with a feeling of sadness and confusion about how to respond to this sad news. On the one hand, I didn't really know the man and didn't think about on a daily basis, so felt a bit awkward about feeling sad for losing him. On the other hand, he felt like family. Like a father that I was thankful to have around and who made me feel safe and proud to be South African. Someone I didn't know personally but who I felt I deeply loved.
I was twelve years old when Madiba was released from prison, after serving for 27 years. I don't even remember the day. A few years later, on the day of the first democratic elections, 27 April 1994, I was 16. Too young to vote, I accompanied my parents to a sports field next to a local shopping centre, La Lucia Mall, where they excitedly stood in line to vote. The atmosphere on that day was one of jubilation. Too young to properly comprehend the gravity of this moment in our history, it was only in latter years that I began to really appreciate the lengths that Madiba and his comrades went to, to secure us our freedom and basic human rights.
Borne into a community where Apartheid was already present, at some level, makes one believe that this is how the world operates. I accepted it as the norm that I lived in a community of only Indian people and that white people were superior. I suspect that my parents, and other parents alike, tried to shield us from many of the harsh aspects of Apartheid such as the public humiliation of being turned away from white only places. I have no memory of such places or experiences.
It was only in later years, when I went to University and started working that I began to associate with people of other races and it was then that I began to fully realize the damage that such a system had on my self worth.
Fast forward to today and I believe that I have largely healed and Madiba played a big part in this. A man who spearheaded our nation, that I love so much, out of the despair of Apartheid into the era of freedom that I now enjoy. I will forever be grateful.
You inspire me to live a life of honour and integrity and to fight against injustice. I wasn't mature or brave enough to do so before, but from here on I will try to live a life with meaning and with kindness to my fellow man.