JOHANNESBURG— Nelson Mandela was one of the most loved and respected politicians in the world, but for South Africans he was more than that. For them, he was the father of their reborn nation and adored even by young South Africans who were born as he was ending his political life.
For many in South Africa, the advent of democracy in 1994 offered the promise of hope, a future where all would have equal access to health care, education and jobs. The reality has been different. Public education and health services are crumbling, the gap between rich and poor has grown, unemployment has increased and government at all levels has been plagued by corruption and poor administration.
Until the end of his life, former President Nelson Mandela remained a beacon of hope and a source of pride for all South Africans, continuing to inspire his fellow citizens and millions around the globe each day. These include the youngsters who make up the so-called “Mandela generation," the first children to be born and raised in a democratic South Africa.
Twelve-year-old Jonathan Sibandi is among those children, and saw Mandela as a father figure.
”Mandela is like the father of our nation. To be in this country and say you don’t know Mandela, is actually a slap in the face. If it wasn’t for him, we would still be there, where I would be scrubbing the floors. So Mandela is an inspirational leader,” said Sibandi.
Another 12-year-old, Phumelele Mothadi, doesn’t take lightly the fact that she’s been privileged to grow up in a democratic country.
“I feel like I’ve got a huge responsibility on my shoulders, because I feel like I have to do whatever I can, for South Africa not to go back to what it was, before ’94,” said Mothadi.
Thirteen-year-old Daniel Singh says that, after a painful history, Mandela has managed to make South Africans proud of their heritage once again.
“I mean it shows that us South Africans are capable of doing something. You shouldn’t judge us by the way we look, the way we say things and about the way that we do things… We are capable of changing the world and we’ve done so through Mandela and he’s proven the world a point, that we can do anything,” said Singh.
Sibandi agrees, and also touched on the pride engendered from such a prominent figure coming from one’s country.
“It makes me feel proud, because at least someone from a little country, a little person, someone that may be of insignificance can make a big difference in the world… To become so large and so popular, it’s amazing to see what he has done,” said Sibandi.
Sibandi identified forgiveness as the most important thing he has learned from Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison for fighting apartheid.
“The ability to come out of prison and still be peaceful with everyone around him. I mean if other people had come out of prison, there would have been violence, but to see how he came out of prison, and actually still love the people who put him in prison, it’s pretty amazing,” said Sibandi.
For Mothadi, the lesson to be learned from the popular late president is selflessness.
“I love him because he fought for me to be free, and he doesn’t even know me, and that’s pretty special,” said Mothadi.
Meanwhile, Singh said he couldn’t have found a better role model.
“I love Nelson Mandela because he is an awesome role model to look up to. He has never given up. He was persevering through whatever he did. He had his mind set on one thing, and he went for that one thing, and because of him today I have a better future, I have a reason for living today,” explained Singh.
Perhaps Mothadi best summed up the feeling among the Mandela generation in modern South Africa: “I feel relieved, that I don’t have to fight like the struggles of the apartheid and everything. I feel… free.”
Children from across South Africa will be given opportunities to express their feelings and pay their last respects to the man fondly known by them as Madiba (his Xhoze clan name) or Tata (Xhosa for ‘father’) at school and community memorial events.