From Cape Town: A Perspective on Nelson Mandela


Photo Courtesy of Janie Simonton

“Once Mandela dies, you need to head to a rural farm and hide in the bush for a while because things are going to get really violent.”

I’m currently studying abroad in Cape Town, South Africa, and have been hearing things like this all semester. This particular quote, from one of my friend’s host fathers, who was a detective during apartheid, is particularly haunting. His words aren’t the only ones that resonated, though. My neighbors in Langa, a township I stayed in for three weeks, speculated that Mandela’s death would mean instant race riots. People, she explained, are only keeping the peace to honor Mandela, but once he dies, there’s no reason not to unleash built-up aggression.

South African President Jacob Zuma announced former President Mandela’s death sometime after 11:30 p.m. SAST (South African Standard Time) last night. I had just gone to bed, but woke up hardly twenty minutes into sleeping to shouts in my hostel of “He’s dead! Mandela’s dead!” Everyone on my abroad program woke up and watched the news and frantically refreshed news articles on laptop browsers, wired enough we didn’t even realize that all of us online at once was sucking up the already snail-paced wifi. After a semester of being told, essentially, “fear for your safety when Madiba dies,” it was hard to go back to sleep.

This morning, my classmates and I rushed to the nearest supermarket to purchase newspapers, which were frantically being restocked as customers bought the large broadsheets of the Cape Times, Mandela’s smiling face emblazoning the whole front page.

As of yet, the day has gone by without violence, merely mourning and celebration of a great life, the life of South Africa’s hero. I sit here writing this having just returned from a citywide prayer vigil outside of Cape Town City Hall, of which the steps and surrounding area were packed with those waving flags and singing along to the hymns religious leaders sang in Xhosa, Mandela’s native language.

While the entire country mourns, there is a definite undercurrent of nervousness in the people I’ve talked to. But until we have something tangible to be nervous about, we can do nothing in our final six days in the country but celebrate the life of the man whose name is synonymous with democracy here. Enkosi, Tata Mandela. Lala kakhuhle. Thank you, Father Mandela. Sleep well.

10 responses

  1. Thanks for posting this, Janie. It’s great to hear from you. I hope that the rest of your stay in SA is fun, fulfilling, challenging, and transformative. — Prof. VH

  2. I just keep thinking about how awesome it is that you are living such a memorable piece of history…We havent had another man as honored and great as this man…for a long time…and I wonder who will step up next to be a person of such honor and greatness….I cannot think
    of a living soul right now, who has made such a difference in how humans really LOOK at one another…Be safe, Janie.

  3. Janie – I am now working with a Cape Town firm on a project to develop renewable energy in sub-Saharan Africa. Here is what the manager of that firm said when I offered him my condolences on Mandela’s death:

    “The peaceful changes to a democratic country that were lead by Nelson Mandela inspired all those of us who believed it would not be possible. It was indeed a miracle. The celebration of his leadership, and thanks of the nation that could be paid to him over the years before his passing, leads now to the opportunity for us to reflect on how fortunate we in South Africa are, thanks to Madiba.”

    Stay safe. Love you.

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