Zelda’s letter to Madiba
You have been gone for almost a year now. Your passing has still not sunk in and the reality is difficult to accept.
We are grateful to be healthy and well. You would laugh at me telling you that I now have to wear glasses when I read. Yes, I’m becoming old and I can hear you responding with a laugh and your shoulders shrugging. My parents are well and so are my dogs. No new boyfriends to report on. Generally life has been mediocre since you left.
Your absence has also meant seeing less of people like Mum, Kathy, Uncle George and others. But we remain in touch and I know everybody misses you.
Khulu, I published my book, Good Morning, Mr Mandela, and it has been received so well. I am, however, still happy that you didn’t read it because I don’t consider myself a good enough writer to subject you to the experience of having to read my writing. I am reminded how I one day told you something had been “broadcasted” and you corrected me about four times, telling me that there is no such word as “broadcasted”. “It’s just ‘broadcast’,” you said.
I have also been reminded of the time I tried to be smart when I asked you whether a particular gentleman with the surname of Kunene was related to the Kunene brothers and you pointed out to me that that would be like thinking all the Bothas are family.
These are all things I remembered after the publication of my book. You would be happy to know that it has somehow contributed to nation-building. People still learn from you. My highlight has been a 10-year-old black girl who traced me and made a plan to meet me so she could tell me she wants to be like me when she grows up. I, of course, told her she needs some ambition in life. You would have enjoyed that.
We miss you.
I have been worried about South Africa, Khulu. What I miss most is asking your advice or opinion on matters. I have noticed the sharp decline in mutual respect among our people, friend and foe. It is as if you were our conscience. I remember how you disliked it when people were submissive before you, but at the same time how disrespect angered you.
I watched a movie called The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. In it they discuss mourning and loss and they say:
“Is it our friend we are grieving for … or is it our own loss that we are mourning? Have we travelled far enough that we can allow our tears to fall?”
I’ve come to the conclusion that it is not only for you that we grieve, but also for our own loss – most importantly, loss of self-respect, which strains our respect for one another. I often look at how people behave and wonder what would have happened if you and others, like Mr [FW] De Klerk, had behaved as we do now.
I have gone back to reading your speeches to try to find some answers. I read in a speech you delivered at an ANC rally for your 90th birthday in August 2008:
“Let us give the lead in demonstrating our respect for the institutions of our democracy – both in our actions and words.” And: “We require disciplined leaders and members with respect for their organisation, who care equally for all South Africans and for all people who live within our borders.”
But even as things appear to be getting worse, I am reminded of the thing I heard you say most often over the 19 years I worked for you: “It is easier to change others than it is to change yourself.”
I guess you would ask what I have done to contribute to society instead of leaving it to others. I try to use my experiences and the things you taught me to somehow make sense of what is happening.
Your legacy cannot be dependent on your presence. That is also what most people take from my book, a simple story with many lessons to be learnt.
We try and we fail more than we succeed, but as we remember December 5, it is perhaps time for us to recalibrate our own moral compasses. One year on, we have to accept that you are gone forever. The only thing that remains is to learn from your example. What I remember best, apart from your infectious smile, is the importance you placed on respect.
We will always love you and remain grateful that we were privileged to live in your time. You have blessed us all and allowed us to shine in the light of a prosperous future for our beautiful country. On Friday and every other day I will try to renew my undertaking to be an active citizen and work towards the goals and principles you stood for.
I know all the people who revered and loved you will do so too. In this way, our hero will never die.
Rest in peace. We will try.