A Jewish South African shares her memories of “Madiba” and recalls the first embrace of forgiveness that his leadership would bring
February 11, 1990, will stand out in my mind forever. It was on this day that Nelson Mandela was released from prison bringing with him hope, courage and the leadership that would herald a new South Africa.
I was born and raised in Johannesburg, but on the day of Madela’s release, I was on holiday in Cape Town. It was very hot and I had taken refuge from the heat at Clifton Beach where all along the sand there was excitement: all signs indicated Mandela was soon to be a free man.
While most people expressed optimism, there was also uncertainty about possible violence. Would there be riots between right wingers and African National Congress supporters? There were even fears about possible retribution against white South Africans. But as the day progressed, the excited whispers became shouts of joy when it was confirmed Mandela’s release was in fact imminent.
After spending some time on the beach celebrating, I started to walk back to my hotel. All along the road was so much excitement: people singing and joyfully calling out to each other from passing cars. There and then, I made the decision, I was going to join the party and take a “black taxi” back to Sea Point.
“Black taxis” are mini buses infamous for their rather reckless drivers and are often over crowded. It is not unheard of for 20 or more people to take a taxi designed for 16. Black South Africans often do not have the choice, but to travel in these taxis because they are more frequent and cheaper than formal transportation.
Back on Clifton Beach Road, I signaled down the taxi and climbed aboard. The other travellers warmly greeted me as I passed my money to driver. I immediately felt an incredible sense of pride among all the passengers. I was the only white on board, but I felt no fear in the taxi: we were all celebrating together for a new South Africa – I even joined in the singing.
This was the first moment, when I knew with an inner certainty that everything would be OK. We needed a leader to unify all South Africans, but the people also had to be ready to follow and carry out the beliefs of the leader. And we were. On a small scale, this was a sign of the first embrace of forgiveness, a quality that would mark Mandela’s entire leadership.
Mandela chose not to seek revenge. He rejected calls to drive out the whites and instead protected minority rights, insisting on building a new South Africa together.
Even in his death, Mandela managed to unify people. At his memorial service, arch enemies sat side by side. Leaders and dignitaries, from all over the world and from all religions, spoke and showed each other respect. They were there for a common cause, to mourn and celebrate a special man, Nelson Mandela.
As a Jew, I think that Mandela perhaps gives an inkling of what the times of Moshiach will hold: When enemies can come together and give each other respect and when people find peace through forgiveness and compromise.
During his life, Mandela was often compared to Joseph, although when Mandela commented on this, he said he had spent more time in jail than Joseph did. Now, as we know, nothing is by chance; Mandela passed away during the parsha that speaks of Joseph. With Joseph’s coat of many colours and Madiba’s shirt of many colours, we, the rainbow nation, can now pass on the message of reconciliation for generations to come.
Hamba Kahle Madiba. We love you and will miss you. Thank you, Hashem, for the gift of Madiba.
Carol Colwin Pincus lives in Sandton, South Africa. Her cousin, Pauline Colwin, works for the Jewish Federation of Ottawa.