Photographed by Yusuf Karsh


I hold you like I held Malcolm before he went away. Before Robben and Mecca laid claim to brilliant, roaring bonfires and hushed them to quiet embers. I remember you as the man who said “it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die”, as the man who led Umkhonto weSizwe (mama le papa), as the man who said we must arm ourselves to take back our land and dignity, as the Black Pimpernel, the boxer, the lawyer, the one who survived on Madikizela’s devotion – when you were all fight and fire and flame – this is how I love you.

Lala kahle, qhawe elihle Rolihlahla Mandela.

Because of you, Luthuli, Tambo, Hani, Sisulu, Biko, Mahlangu, Mashinini, Kathrada, Sobukwe and countless, countless others we are able to rightly walk free in this land of our ancestors.

I didn’t think I would cry because the deification of your memory had fatigued me. But this morning, a little past midnight, I slowly collapsed into myself as I looked around me: I thought of my address, my parents’ tax brackets, my education, my flight to Cape Town in a few hours, my ability to choose the direction of my life and all the opportunities I have. Without you, without your brave peers, without my parents who fought too, without our people, without the tears and without the lifetimes and lifetimes of blood – I would surely be cleaning the house of some white family or teaching a Bantu Education syllabus to brown-skinned babies who would be forced to internalise the message that they were born to be servants. Without all of you, we would be born and die in the chains of servitude to evil, despicable people; prisoners in the only place we’ve ever known as home.

I cried when I thought of how you wore that Boks jersey and walked onto the rugby pitch in 1995. I cried when I thought of all the shuffling and shmiling you had to do to set them at ease after all they did was murder us, steal from us, rape us and plunder our resources for 300 years. I cried because you had to dance. I cried because you had to be the Magic Negro. I cried because CNN called FW de Klerk first this morning as if he hadn’t upheld the very system which equated us to animals. I cried because you did so much and yet for the majority, South Africa is still what it is. I cried because I have an amazingly privileged life. I cried because I so badly believed in a rainbow that does not exist. I cried because I choose to believe that being president was hard and you tried your best to make the best decisions. I cried because I don’t know how to process a world where you, as a man and an ideal, have to be spoken of in memoriam.

It’s all so overwhelmingly complex. I should be in Houghton giving flowers to your memory and singing struggle songs with my kin but I’m writing this from a pretty hotel room in Cape Town, overlooking Table Mountain. This city makes me feel like I am the only one in mourning, there are hardly any brown people here. As we drove in this morning, Brenda Fassie’s tribute to you played and all the heaviness rose and fell and settled once more as I turned to my left and saw the terribly named Castle of Good Hope. History hurts.

Everything hurts but you lived and you loved and you tried.

Thank you for your life. Thank you for your spirit. Thank you for showing what it means to truly serve the people. Siyabonga, Dalibhunga. Rest In Power, eternally.

My Black President.

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