Yesterday morning we went to pay our respects to Madiba outside his Houghton home. In the past, I always found shrines like these, all covered in flowers and pastel teddy bears, morbid and pointless. Princess Di, Michael Jackson, they all had them and I always thought they were weird. But I kind of get it now. Us humans need somewhere collective to go, to visit, where we can gather and mourn and leave a little bit of ourselves behind. Just to say: I was here, these flowers are for him, and I am sad.
So much has been written about Madiba in the media, by people much more qualified than me. Political commentators. And proper journalists. And *real* writers. So although I wanted to write about him very soon after we lost him, it has taken me a few days to distil all of my thoughts.
It’s also hard to say something new about Madiba, to say something that isn’t loaded with cliches. But as with many things in life, if you overthink things, you can become paralysed. So all I can write about is our visit today and how it made me feel, as just another ordinary South African.
I wanted to leave something there, from our family. So I asked Rachel to choose a teddy of hers, one she loved but felt okay giving away to someone else. I told her a man named Mandela had died and we were going to give the teddy to him as a way of saying thank you. I don’t think she completely understood but I will explain it to her one day when she is older, and I will show her the pictures.
It was quite something in Houghton. The streets were filled with people, all kinds of people, from all walks of life. They were singing and dancing and smiling and crying – and there was something special in the air. Everything just felt different. People’s guards were down and everyone was talking to each other, even perfect strangers.
But eventually I convinced her and we placed it gently down, amidst all the beautiful letters and flowers, amidst a whole pile of love.
We made our way back to the car, so glad we had come and feeling like we had been a part of history. There are so many cynics, who point out that Mandela was not a saint and that we are deifying him in death. But he changed our country. He gave us freedom. And yes, he did have faults, but in South Africa our leaders don’t often fill us with pride, and this one did. So give us a few weeks of hyperbole and a national outpouring of grief- what harm can it cause?
Maybe it was silly, leaving a toy of hers there, but I can only hope that someone sensible collects all the memorabilia one day, once all the official mourning is over, and perhaps gives the toys to children less fortunate. I think Madiba would have liked that.
Goodbye sheep. And goodbye Madiba.