South Africa 5.12.2014 12:20 pm

Veterans, Graca Machel honour Mandela

Graca Machel lays a wreath at the statue of Nelson Mandela at the Union Buildings in Pretoria on 5 December 2014 at the commemoration of the first anniversary of the death of  Madiba. Picture: Christine Vermooten

Graca Machel lays a wreath at the statue of Nelson Mandela at the Union Buildings in Pretoria on 5 December 2014 at the commemoration of the first anniversary of the death of Madiba. Picture: Christine Vermooten

It was an emotional morning as aging and frail veterans of the struggle against apartheid came together on Friday at the Union Buildings in Pretoria to commemorate the death of Nelson Mandela.

However, particularly for Shiresh Nanabhai, the revolutionary spark had not faded, as he told The Citizen that he would do it all over again.

Nanabhai was arrested while planning to sabotage a railway line and was sent to Robben Island in 1963, together with Laloo Chiba, Solly Vania and Indres Naidoo.

He met Mandela as a young boy when he joined the youth congress in 1955.

“I have known him ever since. We were the first group to land on Robben Island, they were very tough times for us,” said Nanabhai.

“But we survived. We knew we were there for a purpose and we knew we would come out alive at the end of it all.”

Looking back, if he had to do it all over again, Nanabhai said he would if the conditions were the same.

“My father was in the struggle in India, and he said if we were willing to act on a principle, we must know there will be consequences. That gave us the strength to take a stand against apartheid and then later survive the island.”

Earlier, Graca Machel had thanked Mandela for creating the space to unite the families of Machel and Mandela.

In light of the pending court action by his ex-wife Winnie Madikazela-Mandela over Machel’s home in Qunu in the Eastern Cape, which was left to her by Madiba, it seemed Machel used the opportunity to stake her claim as the head of the Mandela clan.

Speaking without notes, Machal said she knew Madiba was smiling because he was among the family he chose to build.

“He is with Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, Lillian Ngoyi, Joe Slovo, Ruth First, Yusuf Dadoo, Ma Sisulu and many of his brothers and sisters who have been part of his journey throughout his adult life,” Machel said.

“On the day of his passing, I was not able to think. I was numb. But now, looking back, I can imagine him tall and proud, walking, and all of them raising to receive him, and him beaming his contagious smile, embracing each one of them.”

Knowing that he was “happy” is what sustained her this past year.

Cementing her place as the woman at Madiba’s side when he died, Machel said it was her “singular privilege” to be the shoulder Mandela would lean on in the sunset of his life.

“I will be eternally grateful that he chose me to be that shoulder. We looked into the eyes of each other with love and joy. We walked hand in hand all along our life together, we supported each other, we gave energy to each other to nourish our hearts and our minds, to dedicate ourselves to the causes we had chosen.”

Machel said she would always be grateful to Madiba for having allowed her to create the space, “physically and emotionally”, for him to finally embrace his family one by one, and love them under one roof where he could experience in his last years being the centre and the glue of his family. “He enjoyed greatly those moments and I’m proud I was there, hand in hand, building that space for him,” Machel said.

She added that she was proud he could enjoy the normalcy of a family home with her.

“Together, we did our best to unite the two families and him in particular, became the father and grandfather of all the children of both our families. I stand here today as a mother of these two families.”

 

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