I got to know and hear of Nelson Mandela when I was barely a teenager living in the West Rand gold mines - Randfontein, Madubulaville and Bhongweni/Robinson. Our parents spoke of this man, Mandela, with great awe, respect and pride. "Did you hear of this young fellow from Koloni (Cape Colony)? What a brave, clever and sharp lawyer. He tells the white magistrates where to get off so bravely but in such a polished manner. This chappy is going to go places. He is a brilliant up-and-coming young lawyer. Our pride indeed!"
That, the foregoing, culminated in Mandela, "The Man", the lawyer, and his law colleagues being followed around the law courts as though they were a famous soccer club - Orlando Pirates or Manchester United! "The Man" was a crowd-puller; he could beat the Pied Piper of Hamelin hands down! His performances in court cases were admired by the oppressed and disenfranchised location masses. They came from far and wide to witness this gallant and brilliant young African lawyer!
The story that my late father, a clerk in the Randfontein Gold Mining Estates, was fond of relating was indeed fascinating to the many who listened. He said one magistrate - white, of course (never black or brown those days) - when he saw this "young black lawyer", couldn't believe his eyes nor contain his uneasiness and abhorrence in facing a black lawyer "nogal", to relate to this "boy-lawyer" as an equal.
The magistrate questioned the young African lawyer as to why he was in court. Calmly, the young man said, "I represent my client in this case!" "What! You want to tell me you are a lawyer? Where's your certificate? Kom nou, waar's dit!"
You should see my old man's face glow when he relates "The Man's" reply.
"I don't carry my certificate around - it's in my office adorning the wall; Your worship, where is your certificate? Can you please show it to me?"
When he got into politics he stayed in the public eye and minds of the disenfranchised, oppressed people countrywide. He was the talk of the locations and reserves.
They read of "The Man" in Umthetheli-wa-bantu the newspaper, The Guardian, the Bantu World, Drum, Zonk. The trains were abuzz with tales about this Mandela boy!
The Treason Trial further catapulted "The Man" to greater heights and bared his soul and love for his people for all to see!
For some time my generation lost him a bit as a legend because we were being inducted in the struggle that was clearly showing signs of a new era of determination - "Freedom or death! Better to die on your feet fighting for your freedom than live on your knees like a slave!" was our battle cry!
One morning, the whole big picture of "The Man" and comrades unfolded on Robben Island! It was like some rare phenomenon had taken place in the universe. I saw him clearly among his "fellow incoming drafted prisoners"! Not even the queer prison gear could conceal the dignity enveloping "The Man". He was exuding charisma, charm, confidence and, strangely, humility - for a politician a very rare attribute! The "opstokers" were locked up in the "kulukutu", single, segregated cells.
Pretty soon, there was a hotline to Madiba and the rest of the kulukutu. Communication - two-way communication - was going on between these Rivonia Trial VIP prisoners and the larger prison population - all sections of the "klip tronk".
True or embellished, almost all missives from the kulukutu would bear, somewhere in their body, "Mandela says ..." Well, "The Man" has that rare gift of being a fighter in the body of a peacemaker and reconciler. His communication proved to be the glue binding all inmates across the political party spectrum. "The Man's" leadership transcended barriers - sectarian, ethnic, even though the battle for the ideological souls of inmates was fierce and robust!
The longer they kept him in prison, the greater he grew in stature and legend. His name was on the lips of many.
Upon my release, I felt and saw the Madiba magic and "The Man's" charisma hit London anti-apartheid activists and even the ordinary British like a ton of bricks!
When "Release Mandela" was performed in nightclubs, the patrons went bananas, so to say. The whole world was bonding with "The Man" - Mandela!
I experienced the same in my other travels to Norway, Stockholm, Washington and Dublin. "Are you from Mandela's country?" they'd ask.
Madiba is a modest person - it is plain for all to see. If he had the extra power he would stop all of us from heaping accolades on him alone. He always insists on the Botho-uBuntu norms and values. People have shaped his life, he seems to say in the way he carries himself.
In conclusion, part of this tribute should go to his parents, relatives and the community that played a critical role in nurturing, shaping, guiding and supporting this, a rare and wonderful gift to our country and human society worldwide.
Madiba - "The Man": Thanks for being the person you are to all of us, your compatriots and the communities and nations worldwide. You are without a doubt a visionary, a prophetic visionary. "Ca-magu-Madiba." Thanks, Pula Madiba!