Don't let Mandela's dream fade away like a home-made lolly
As a nation, we need to fulfil and embody the promise that the likes of Reverend Tiyo Soga and former president Nelson Mandela saw in our country.
There were many moments to shed a tear during the 10-day mourning period for that titanic leader Nelson Mandela. For some, the moment came with the announcement itself; for others, it was the solemn tone of his lying in state at the Union Buildings that provided the moment.
Those who wept in Pretoria would perhaps have been struck by the poetic poignancy and resonance of South Africa's first democratically elected president being honoured with full military honours at the same place where his persecution was surely plotted over the many years he was an enemy of the white minority government.
For those who wept during the memorial service at the FNB Stadium, their tears of grief would have been diluted by the relentless downpour on that December day. Their agony may also have been tinged with despair or even shame, which then turned to horror at what ensued next – the booing of President Jacob Zuma and the shambles involving Thamsanqa Jantjie, the fake sign-language interpreter.
For those of us tasked with telling the story of Mandela to a television audience, there was little time to mourn as we would have have wished. Our duty was to capture this moment for posterity to the best of our abilities under the circumstances. One had to steel oneself throughout the ordeal, but even for the toughest among us there would come a time of vulnerability. For me, that moment struck the day of the funeral in Qunu.
It was when the pallbearers representing the various arms of the defence force entered the domelike marquee carrying Mandela's casket, which was draped in the South African flag. At that moment, the choir started singing the rousing and sentimental hymn Lizalis' idinga lakho, written in the 19th century by the Reverend Tiyo Soga.
It is a well-known and popular hymn. It was famously sung when the ANC was launched at the Waaihoek Methodist church in Bloemfontein in 1912. It is a song of anguish and hope and aspiration. Many black people learnt it by rote as children, their teachers often neglecting to inform them of its rich history and significance. It speaks of the author's wish for the continent and South Africa's progress.
Soga, who is hailed as one of the early African intellectuals, is said to have written this song on his journey home by ship to South Africa after his studies in Scotland. He had yearned for home while away.
The continued disenfranchisement of black people under colonial rule and the catastrophic results of the prophecy of Nongqawuse in the Eastern Cape inspired some of the lyrics, which he wrote as his ship brought him ever nearer to the troubled shores of his beloved homeland.
All of this history came to mind as Mandela's casket was brought into the marquee. In a slow, solemn march, there was a confluence of past African dreams deferred – and those spectacularly achieved by Mandela and his cohorts. Each new stanza of Soga's hymn tugged painfully at the heart.
It reminded one of the sense of hope, pride and promise that Mandela's freedom and the unbanning of the ANC and other liberation movements meant to us 20 years ago. We were like children with brand- new clothes at Christmas; we felt shiny and invincible. No amount of wear and tear ahead could dull the wearer's enthusiasm for those special Christmas clothes. That's what I wept over: the profound sense of loss of not just of a great individual and towering leader, but also for who we once were and what we once believed ourselves to be.
The reality is that even the finest and most expensive Christmas clothes become frayed and threadbare if they are not treated with care. Likewise, people's nerves get frayed, like tattered hems. People grow tired of hollow excuses, which have now become as tasteless and bland as an ice bompie as it loses its taste.
For those who don't know what a bompie is, it is a home-made ice treat made simply by mixing a sweet powdered drink or a cordial with water. That liquid is then poured into an ice tray or, better yet, a small clear plastic bag. Once frozen, these bompies can provide endless delight in the hot summer months – a cool, refreshing, sugary high.
It was an affordable snack back then when I was growing up, because ice lollies were far beyond the pocket money of most of us. The taste of the bompie was divine but fleeting, given how quickly the bright colour faded and the sweetness dissipated into bland iced water.
Our country and the gains we have made – whether overcoming the divide-and-rule of colonialism or finally defeating the oppression of apartheid – must be safeguarded against those who would seek to appease us with lies, as if to comfort a child made irritable by too much sun with a bompie.
As a nation, we need to dust off our wrinkly old Christmas clothes and make them new again, not just to evoke the hope and pride we are mourning, but to fulfil and embody the promise that the likes of Soga and Mandela saw in our country.
Nikiwe Bikitsha is a senior anchor for the eNCA news channel