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Our Hero


It has been coming for so long but now we are in shock. We are left with his memory after all the years of living in his sheltering shadow, knowing that in him there was something that all South Africans could take pride in, something that gave us hope for a united civil future, a wonderful story to tell our children. Now we have to make sure that this story does not end with the man who made it possible. We need to define what will live on, what future generations of South Africans will inherit to give them the strength, and knowledge to do the right thing at the right time, just as he did. Above all, he embodied forgiveness, but not in a meek, submissive way. This was a prisoner who bound his captors to him with his knowledge of them, their history and their culture, and made his enemies part of his peace process. It is even said that he neglected his own family because he saw all South Africans as his family, his tribe. (I know this is true because it was after a discussion with Zindzi that we conspired to bring the whole family together in Westbrook for the first meeting in 25 years and a historic, never-to-be repeated photograph of all of them with him. I cannot help thinking that only at his funeral will they all be together, like that, again. Patriarchy, or the lack of it, was the price he and they paid, perhaps.) Perhaps patriarchy, as it is practised in South Africa, did not fit his concept of humanity. It is also said that one of his regrets was that he did not grasp the nettle of AIDs during his presidency as firmly as he grasped all other nettles. That he was warned that telling South African men what they must stop doing in order to stop the spread of this scourge was politically risky. Having risked so many other things, in this he hesitated. But then, don't deify this man. The greatest thing about him was his humanity. It was that which made him great, which allowed us to love him and now to grieve as if each of us had lost a piece of ourselves. What we can take forward is the heritage of humanity. He embodied what makes the human spirit worthy of its time on earth. He has left us with a great example, and an even greater challenge. Someone once said, ‘living, he gave you more than death can take away.’ I would add to that: ‘Dying, as we all will do, he has given us the chance to be better people than we ever thought we could be. Now we need to do it ourselves. It is the least we can do.’ - Jane Raphaely