By Stacey Dlamini
There were two momentous occasions in the life of the Dlamini family over the past two weeks.
Stacey Dlamini and her husband Buhle recently moved to Pictou County from South Africa. They were there the day he died though and travelled to the Mandela house that night to join others mourning his death and celebrating his life. They are pictured here with three of their children. From left: Buhle (holding Khaya), Nhlanhla, Trinity and Stacey. Not pictured is their other child, Bijou. ADAM MACINNIS – THE NEWS
Editors note: Stacey Dlamini grew up in Pictou County but moved to South Africa and was there when Nelson Mandela died. She moved back to Pictou County three days later and shared with us her reflections on Mandela’s passing and his influence in South Africa.
By Stacey Dlamini
There were two momentous occasions in the life of the Dlamini family over the past two weeks. On Dec. 5 just before midnight local South African time, I was sitting in our lounge in Johannesburg, ironically reflecting on the life of Mandela having just watched the movie “Long Walk to Freedom” when I received a text message which simply said, “Former President Nelson Mandela has died.” Three days later my family said goodbye to our friends and family in Johannesburg, and boarded a plane bound for our new life in Nova Scotia.
Needless to say it’s been an emotional few weeks. Our excitement about starting a new life has been overshadowed by the death of this great man, and it has been almost impossible to separate our personal grief at having to say goodbye to so many loved ones from the grief that all South Africans have experienced during these 10 days of mourning.
By way of background, I was born and brought up in Pictou County. As a Grade 6 student at Dr W.A. MacLeod Elementary School I remember vividly a project we were to do on our personal hero. The year was 1988 and I chose Nelson Mandela, who at the time was serving his 25th year in prison. Violence and anarchy was increasing in South Africa and pressure was mounting on the apartheid government to release him and all political prisoners in an effort to avoid a civil war.
Much has been written about the transition to democracy in South Africa, which was hailed by many as nothing short of miraculous, and was in no small part due to the leadership and courage of this man. In 2000, armed with a degree in political science and two suitcases of clothing, I left Nova Scotia to start my adult life in South Africa. I had visited a few times previously and had been corresponding with a young man who was to become my husband.
His name was Buhle and he was a Zulu. Relationships like ours between black and white were still relatively unchartered territory in South Africa, but would have been illegal only a decade before. When Mandela and other great leaders of his generation cast a vision of a democratic, non-racial and non-sexist South Africa, we believed it was possible. We were married in 2002 in Durban and I recall that as we posed for pictures in a public garden, it was not only members of our wedding party who were taking pictures. Passers-by also took photos presumably to document this strange sight.
In our 11 years of marriage we have reaped the benefits of Mandela’s vision. We have loved beyond borders of race, ethnicity, language and faith and have been richer for it. Our network of friends and family includes people of all colours, tribes and languages, both from within South Africa and beyond its borders. We built a business and had children who attended multiracial, state-run schools. We bought a home, mindful of the fact that it had not always been legal for black people to own land. I learned my husband’s language and embraced his culture. I began to look on his people as “our people.” I got involved in my community and applied for South African citizenship.
But with rights come responsibilities. We have always felt the obligation to translate Mandela’s vision into reality in our sphere of influence. As we lived our lives we invited people into our story, and together we developed an expanded sense of what was possible. We would patiently explain to people that our differences were small compared to what we had in common. When people would get surprised by my surname (very common among Zulus… not so among blonde females) I would engage with them and answer their questions in Zulu. (Yes, my parents know and yes they love him.) I like to think that these little engagements help us collectively to redefine normal.
Upon hearing the news of Madiba’s death, we jumped in the car and drove to his home in Houghton Johannesburg where he had passed away only hours before. There were about 200 other South Africans already there though it was the middle of the night. A small memorial of candles and flowers had started on the street corner. Some were praying, others were dancing and singing, “Nelson Mandela! Nelson Mandela! Ha hona ya tshwanang le wena!” (There’s no one like him!). We sang and danced with the crowd and felt honoured to be with our people at that pivotal moment. It was small, but it was all we could do to honour that legendary man, and we hoped that our words and our gratitude reached him where he was.
We took the decision to come to Nova Scotia so that our children could have a meaningful relationship with their Canadian grandparents that goes beyond an annual holiday. But it was very hard to leave South Africa before the public memorial service at FNB Stadium and the other events that marked this special time. We have joined the ranks of thousands of other expats, huddled around screens in the middle of the night, wishing we were home, hoping to catch the refrain of a song sung by the crowd so we can join in.
There are always those who predict doom and gloom for South Africa, and the challenges we face as a nation at this stage in our development are real. But when push comes to shove, we have been shown how to live. Now freedom is in our hands. Lala ngoxolo Tata Mandela, Baba weSizwe. Siyakubonga kakhulu. (Rest in peace Tata Mandela, Father of the Nation, we thank you.)