I’m at the Kilimanjaro International Airport waiting for my flight back to Stone Town. The past four days were spent on safari in Tanzania’s Northern Circuit. It was absolutely stunning, but before posting about that, I wanted to get something in about the death of Nelson Mandela.
We were put up by our safari company in a hotel the night of the 5th, and were set to start our safari on the morning of the 6th. We got up, ready to depart, and, being a stereotypical Canadian, I turned on the TV (the first one I had seen outside a couple bars) to check for a weather station. Instead, I found CNN, and saw the news of Mandela’s death.
His death wasn’t exactly a surprise – when I was first leaving for South Africa, it seemed likely he would die closer to my arrival. It was still jarring to see the news though, and made me wish I was back in Cape Town instead of Tanzania. Though far removed from South Africa, other African countries felt the loss – Tanzanian government employees were given three days off work to pay their respects. My safari guide, Timothy, didn’t have much to say about it when Julia mentioned it, simply that, “There is nothing to say. No one can live forever.”
The morning the news broke, South Africans (according to CNN at least) responded by celebrating his life. As I write this, the memorial ceremony is being broadcast on the airport television. The football stadium is packed, and it seems as though there continues to be a celebration of his life outside the stadium. When someone who was so important to a nation’s idea of unity is gone, it’s difficult to determine how people will react. It’s especially difficult for me, as an outsider, to really have an idea of what’s to come – though Cape Town feels like home to me, I’m not a South African and I could never claim to truly understand what it meant to the people of South Africa to have someone like Mandela leading their country. I can only hope future generations will carry on his legacy and his messages of peace and unity.
It is striking, after traveling through other parts of Africa, how different South Africa really is from other countries in the continent. It’s not just that Cape Town has a European feel, it’s the culture. There are still obvious divisions among white, black, and coloured individuals, and for many people, the end of apartheid is still too recent to feel any significant changes, or to actually believe that the changes post-apartheid have been done for the best of all people in South Africa.
I’ll be back in Cape Town on Friday, and will pay my respects then. His funeral is to be held on Sunday, and there is a vigil in Cape Town that I will be attending. The night of the fifth, I was actually just thinking of how I had yet to visit Robben Island, and would have to do so before leaving at the end of the month.
It seems like a strange thing to say, but I feel extremely privileged to witness part of history, and to pay tribute to one of the greatest men of our times. I wish I could more eloquently express my thoughts on this subject, but right now I’m exhausted and still feel uncertain about what his death means. For now, I’m off to watch the memorial and wait for my flight. My thoughts go to all those who personally knew Mandela and are mourning him, as well as the people of South Africa.
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
– Nelson Mandela