Johannesburg – My favourite part of Tuesday’s Mandela Memorial, didn’t come during the formal proceedings inside FNB Stadium.
With all due respect to the organisers, but who arranges for 10 speeches, when people have been told to be at the venue at 6am for an event that was supposed to start five hours later? As it was, official proceedings began shortly before noon. That’s 10 speeches, leaving aside inter-faith prayers and a sermon after the key note address. There are any number of reasons why President Jacob Zuma was booed during the Memorial of the this country’s most famous son, but those reasons were simply exacerbated by a lengthy wait in the rain, especially for those already frustrated by the calamitous transport arrangements.
As good as Barack Obama’s speech was, and as movingly as he delivered it, the best part of my day came long before he spoke, in fact it came before the official programme began.
It started on Platform 11 of Park Station, at 4.15am, moved to platform 7, then to a train, which we subsequently vacated, back to Platform 11, for the approximately 40-minute wait before we departed for Nasrec Station. At Park, there were three renditions of Shosholoza before the train had arrived, with those of us waiting for the transport to FNB Stadium being helped in our musical performance by passengers heading to the East Rand, who thumped away on the frame of their carriage standing on the opposite platform. My enjoyment came with the numerous other ‘struggle’ songs sung in honour of Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo. I got caught up in the national anthem being belted out of our carriage at 5am, as we crept out of Park Station, the dancing which some of the European visitors thought might knock the train off the tracks. The chanting of “Amandla!” and “Viva!” and “Long Live!”
There was a rendition of Senzenina midway between Park and Nasrec Stations that brought a lump to my throat.
The joy of standing in the queue waiting for the gates at the stadium to be opened, while the rain, not as heavy as it became later, gently fell.
There was more chanting in the stands, as we took our seats. More singing. More “Amandla!” More “Long Live!”
Unfortunately the event to commemorate Madiba’s life has become caught up in the booing of the current president. Go ahead, if you wish, and have that as your abiding memory of the Mandela Memorial. I won’t. Tuesday was about Mandela for me. Not the way the ridiculously lengthy line of politicians wanted us to remember him, but how we as citizens want to remember him. I shall cherish that train ride and the dancing and the singing for the rest of my life.