I still remember that day 5 years back in October 2008. The evening before we – I, my wife and son – drove from Port Elizabeth to the wonderfully picturesque Cape Town. Next morning on our first day in the city we thought of going to the Robben Island before any other places.
When we arrived at the ticket booking office at the V&A Waterfront for the ferry trip to the island, there was already a huge rush of people. We tried our best but nearly lost all hope when, as luck would have it, we managed only one ticket for the trip. We concluded that I should avail it.
I was upbeat and eager to see the Robben Island Museum. The island, a World Heritage Site, was famous since Nelson Mandela, the then-living legend had spent a large time of his life in the prison there. As the boat drew to the shore and anchored, the passengers were divided into 3 groups and each boarded a bus to ride into the island and back.
In my group I was the only Indian. The trip for me was memorable. As we moved from one prison to another, a history of sacrifice and sufferings unfolded before us which perhaps very few nations would have faced in the modern times.
The guide – himself an ex-convict and currently an ANC member – gave us vivid accounts of Mandela’s leadership both as a person and as a political worker in shaping the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa that went on for so many years.
4 years later, in September 2012, I again had the chance to go to South Africa to deliver a lecture in a conference in Johannesburg. The venue was the Sandton Convention Center which was next to The Nelson Mandela Square, a bustling business-cum-market complex.
For 3 days during the conference I passed through the large arena where the giant bronze figure of Madiba stood. I would look up at him and wonder where in the world would people so lovingly install the statue of a ‘living’ person as they did here!
Today Madiba is no more. The whole world is mourning his demise. Sitting at home and watching BBC and Al Jazeera I realize there is perhaps no country on the planet that isn’t flying its national flag half-mast today as a mark of respect, and hasn’t declared a few days of national mourning. India has declared 5 days of national mourning during which the national flag will be flown at half-mast across the country.
As Nelson Mandela passes into the history, the most fitting tribute to his memory would be to understand his life and works and put to effect what he so earnestly stood for.
Which is freedom for all – freedom of speech, and freedom of practising one’s own beliefs irrespective of race, color, gender, and religion.
May his soul rest in peace.
[Top b&w picture courtesy this source]