IN this our age, the age of open letters, I decided to write this open letter to you to commemorate your life and to let you know that you have touched my life and those of millions more here in South Africa and the entire globe.
Tata, so many people felt a personal loss when the news of your passing pierced their ears and eyes; when all the words and pictures confirmed that you had left the land of the living forever.
We all knew that this day would come, you more than anyone of us.
However, nothing could have prepared us for the sense of loss each of us feels.
I too, like millions across South Africa, and indeed the world, feel like I have lost a man I could look to for guidance.
I feel like a castaway who has lost his compass in the middle of the desert.
Funny, I never even knew you in person but I knew that you were there.
I will, selfishly, miss not having the knowledge that you are around.
Tata you have been many things to many people and causes.
What stands out for me is your humanity, your conviction and your values.
Upon further introspection, I realise that I may have lost my compass but before losing it I had already seen the right way to take at every turn.
You may have left us Tata but what you stood for will never leave us.
You are the North Star that we will always look towards when we are unsure of which way to go.
Tata, I am a 27-year-old young man.
In my short stay on earth I have been through so many things which I thought I could not survive.
There are things which have happened in my life which have made it difficult for me to have faith that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Your life and your sacrifices for me have made me realise the treasure that is life and how you have made our lives so much easier.
You spent 27 years in jail, a period equivalent to my entire lifetime thus far, so that we could be free to live our dreams.
Whatever obstacles we face in our daily lives, we only need to look to your life to see the bigger picture that you had for us as your people.
Tata, we dare not and we will dishonour your sacrifices by not living out our dreams.
We will live to our full potential in celebration and honour of your life.
Tata, of all the great things that have been said about you from being a fierce revolutionary, a liberator, a great statesman and a human rights activist, your humanity stands out throughout the things you have been in your lifetime.
Tata, the history of the world is littered with stories of great revolutionaries, liberators, statesmen and human rights activists.
Tata, your foresight to seek to find the humanity in your oppressors is unbelievable.
What is more astounding was your mission to help your oppressors find the humanity in themselves.
The fact that you were able to execute this objective with the precision of a trained soldier sets you apart from the great men and women of our history as humans.
The world is still in awe that after your oppressors had kept you away from your young family for nearly three decades, you came out to seek to heal your oppressors.
You came out and said that your oppressors were not born with hatred but were taught hatred.
You then set out to help them overcome their misconceptions and fear of those they had oppressed and dehumanised.
This act of reconciliation can be viewed as a selfless act but I am inclined to believe that you and your comrades’ ideology on this principle was informed by the knowledge that in order for all of us to be truly free, none of us need to hate the other, to fear the other and to hold a grudge against the other.
You freed the oppressed and the oppressor so that they could see the humanity in each other, the humanity which was always common to either side of the divide which had been created by the oppressor.
As we continue on the road to freedom that you and your generation began, we falter so many times as we still discriminate and are discriminated against because of race, sexual orientation, background, religion and ethnicity.
Tata, we will continue to seek the humanity in each other.
Tata, you taught us and your life reminds us of the goodness and love that we as humans possess.
We will seek to be good beings to each other and our planet.
Lest we seek to distort your legacy, we will also not forget that you taught us that in the face of intolerable injustice we must fight for what is just.
Tata, you have inspired so many of us to seek to fulfil our potential.
Many of the things that you did with your life were before my generation was born or before we could fully understand what was happening around us.
But there is one of your quotes which stuck with me from a very young age, before I could fully understand what was happening around me.
Tata you said:
“Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farmworkers can become president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.”
That statement of fact buoyed me, and I’m sure many others, to getting an education in order to emancipate ourselves from our circumstances.
We now find ourselves pursuing careers which were once precluded to Africans of your generation.
Without your sacrifices we may not be able to practise careers which we now take for granted.
Through education we are able to see a world beyond our villages, shantytowns and townships.
Thank you for the dreams we are now able to dream – we dream those dreams with the knowledge that they can come true because of what you and your generation did for us.
Tata, as much as you acknowledge the indigenous love and goodness that we possess as humans beings, you know that we are far from perfect and showed us this through your own life.
As much as we falter in our quest to become better beings you taught us to never give up trying.
You always sought to stop us from elevating you to a living god.
You showed us that the great things that you have done are things that we are all capable of doing regardless of our imperfections.
In your own words, you said: “I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps trying.”
Tata, no matter how many times we fall in our walk of fulfilling our potential we will get up, dust ourselves, take cognisance of the reasons and effects of the fall and will continue trying to be good.
We will not give up, Tata!
As you know all so well, the road ahead is long and hard, Tata.
You have set us on the course of finding our own feet so that we may continue with the long walk to freedom.
We will not let you down.
As impossible as it sounds to us, we will pray for God to give us other Nelson Mandelas to lead us on the treacherous roads that still lie ahead.
Maybe now that you are in close proximity to God’s ear you can whisper in his ear to give us leaders of your calibre.
Above all, Tata, we pray for the strength to nurture the goodness of humanity that you saw in all of us.