We arrived in South Africa early in the morning the day before Madiba’s state funeral was to take place.
As an expat South African living in France I really miss my home country and each trip back home is profoundly anticipated. We normally choose to fly with Air France on their overnight flight from Charles de Gaulle to Johannesburg. I quite enjoy the extreme culture shock of leaving Paris, with its distinct flair, the French language being spoken everywhere, and the unmistakable aroma of macaroons as I walk pass the airport’s Ladurée cart – and waking up in Johannesburg.
Although I grew up in Durban, the minute I get off the plane in OR Tambo, I instinctively feel as if I’m ‘home’. I don’t know what it is; perhaps it’s not anything quite tangible or maybe it’s a combination of factors. Maybe it’s the sunshine that is so typical of our country, or hearing Zulu and Xhosa being spoken along with the distinctive Gauteng accent. It’s seeing familiar brands; the dark green and white of the airport’s Mugg and Bean or the ‘W’ of my much-missed Woolworths.
But on this day, something was noticeably amiss. And I knew right away what is was. For the first time in my life, I set foot on my country’s soil, but it was a Madiba-less South Africa I had come home to.
The next day the Rainbow Nation mourned. Each in their own way, they paid their last respects to the man we had come to call ‘Father’. Our Tata.
Some wept openly in their grief. Others danced and shouted. Some somberly sang Nkosi Sikelel‘ iAfrika –God bless Africa. Others toyi-toyed to chants of Shoshaloza.
I knew I too had to find a way to come to terms with his loss. I needed solace, as much as solitude. So I headed to the one place that had always been a comfort to me.
I arrived at the beach on Durban’s famed coast as the sun was low in the sky. Having come unprepared, I placed my sweater on the warm sand and sat down.
I was much too young to have felt the true scourge of apartheid in my lifetime, but I have one lingering memory of being at this very beach at the age of about 5 or 6. My dad very sternly warned me not to make too much noise, and to remember to pick up any trash we leave behind, as we were not really ‘allowed’ on this beach, and could get in trouble for being there.
Looking around now I saw people of every creed and colour occupying that sunny stretch of beach. There were a group of teenagers riotously jumping around in the waves, and next to them a couple with their arms around each other, venturing deeper for a swim.
On the water’s edge there was a young father dipping his baby girl’s toes into the foaming water. The toddler squealed with joy at each new wave.
Under a distressed gazebo I spotted a cluster of old ladies having a boisterous conversation and laughing loudly.
Every colour, every creed, occupied that golden beach that day and I realized with a sharp intake of breath: Madiba may have achieved more than anyone could have imagined politically – but right there in that moment, on that beach: his legacy could be found.
I do not know what the future holds for the Rainbow Nation without our Tata. Some critics preach gloom and doom, while others are optimistic. Only time will tell.
All I know is, I did a lot of things on that beach that day.
I said ‘thank you’.
I then; I said goodbye.