Mandela to me

I knew this day would come soon, for months it had been a close call, but one can never fully prepare for death.

The passing of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela will be remembered for a long time. People will remember where they were when they heard the news. But what is more powerful is that people will also remember the day that he was released from prison.

Anyone walking into my parents home could be forgiven for thinking that Madiba was a relative. As you walk into the dining room you are a greeted by a photo of Madiba and Fidel Castro smiling and embracing. There are other photos throughout the house, as well as numerous stickers of him, the African National Congress (ANC) and the anti-Apartheid struggle — accumulated over the years through my father’s involvement in the freedom struggle.

Growing up in the eighties in Adelaide, I was exposed to Madiba, the ANC and other anti-Apartheid struggle movements from a young age. My sister would have to share my bed when comrades were in town as they would be in her room. Our weekends were spent at rallies or protests, at a young age we could chant and walk the distant telling the masses (of Adelaide and the country) to help end Apartheid in South Africa. My Dad’s involvement in the ANC impacted the whole family, we sacrificed a lot for the betterment of all South Africans.


Me celebrating Mandela’s 70th.

My strongest memory of the anti-Apartheid struggle days was when an image of an elderly man was released for the world to see. Prior to this the image of a handsome, strong man was used when referencing him. The new image was a shock to the system, this once young man was old and looking slightly fragile. It was like having an image of a distant cousin you hadn’t seen in years, and once you see them you have to adjust to the changes that time have given to them.

My dad made most of the banners and placards that were used for protests and rallies. On a Saturday morning, he moved the furniture in the dining room, taped canvas to the wall and set up an overhead projector to trace and paint the new image onto the canvas. The fumes of the paint lingered in the house all day.


The banner to the left, my Dad under it on the left (black top and grey jacket).

Reflecting upon it as an adult, I’m grateful for the decisions my parents made, it taught me to be compassionate and it ignited my passion for humanitarian matters — a world where all people have their basic human rights (we’re still fighting for that one).

I can never fully articulate into words the impact Madiba has had on me. He made the world a better place. My son knows the importance of his legacy to the point that he bought me a book about Mandela for my birthday this year.

Thank you Madiba for teaching me tenacity, resilience and fighting for what you believe in. Thank you for teaching me the importance of compassion and treating all people as humans. And thank you for being you.

Madiba may have left this world, but he lives on through millions of people worldwide, including me.

During my lifetime I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But, My Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

Nelson Mandela’s ‘I am prepared to die’ speech, given from the dock during the Rivonia Trial, Pretoria Supreme Court, 20 April 1964. This transcript is as published on the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory website.


  1. It’s great to hear your personal memories, growing up in Adelaide and fighting for the rights of South Africans. Can I use this with my kids in English/Spanish class?

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