Tidbits From Life Abroad

So I saw Nelson Mandela today…

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Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

Today, the ANC hosted what many called South Africa’s largest political rally. Over 100,000 people crammed into two stadiums in Ellis Park in Johannesburg: Coca-Cola Stadium and Johannesburg Stadium. I made it into the media centre at around 8:30 a.m., about half an hour before the official start of the rally. People from all over South Africa and beyond gathered in Coca-Cola Stadium mainly to see Jacob Zuma, the man who will most likely ascend to the presidency of South Africa by the end of next week.

It would be an understatement if I said this rally was massive. Just in the press area, I met people from Germany, Madagascar, Zambia and England in a span of a few hours. Right now, I’m watching Al Jazeera’s coverage of the rally and I just finished reading the NYT’s story about the rally. Indeed, this was truly an international event.

What some of us in the newsroom had surmised, but what I still found surprising, was Nelson Mandela’s appearance at today’s Siyanqoba “Victory” Rally. The 90-year-old Madiba, as Mandela is reverently called, was clearly frail, as he had to be helped up to the stage by Jacob Zuma and his ex-wife, Winnie. I had situated myself as close to the stage as possible, and so when the golf cart with Zuma and Mandela rolled into the stadium, I couldn’t see what was going on except that everyone on the field was running. Running toward that golf cart making its way around the stadium toward the stage.

As soon as the cart reached the stage, the media section went crazy. Everyone had figured out by then that Madiba was in the house. I must’ve been elbowed more than few times as photographers and videographers like me jockeyed for a clear shot of the former South African president. There was this one photographer who kept coughing on me, saying “I have TB, you better move to the back.” I sure hope she was kidding and only vying for my spot.

Boxed in and jostled around by competing journalists, I found it nearly impossible to shoot good footage until all the ANC leaders were seated. ANC secretary Gwede Mantashe, Winnie Mandela, Nelson Mandela, Jacob Zuma and other political leaders from COSATU and SACP were in attendance. They all began their rounds speaking and rallying the crowd with praise and liberation songs.

Me at the ANC rally“Viva ANC, Viva!”

“Amandla!” (Power!)

Zuma’s speech encapsulated the ANC’s five key platform issues, most dealing with service delivery. There are still many houses to be built and many children to be taught. Some South Africans still do not have access to electricity or running water. There are campaign promises 15 years in the making that have yet to be fulfilled. After a speech chock full of the same promises, Zuma sang Umshini Wami (Bring me my machine gun), and danced, not quite toyi-toyi’ed, his way back into everyone’s hearts. That man sure has charisma, if not motivational speaking skills.

Nelson Mandela was silent throughout the event. Occasionally, he nodded his head, smiled and shook hands with all the dignitaries present. His grandson carried an umbrella aloft above Mandela’s head, and someone had given him a cap midway through the speeches. Mandela is South Africa’s icon after all and a beacon for people power and democratization everywhere in the world. His only words were from a pre-recorded message played in the middle of the speeches, but his presence alone was more than enough to remind everyone there that the ANC is the party that liberated them from the oppressive Apartheid regime. It’s a brillant political tactic, cast only three days before Election Day, and it’s sure to pay off come Wednesday.

What troubled me with the media coverage was how Mandela’s message was taken to be an all-out endorsement for Jacob Zuma. Mandela is an ANC man. He toiled away in prison for 27 years fighting for the ANC’s mission – to bring about a rainbow nation where everyone is treated equally regardless of race, sex, creed, etc. Of course, he supports the ANC and will come out for the ANC’s final campaign rally. However, this doesn’t preclude the illogical conclusion that Mandela strongly endorses Zuma. Mandela may support Zuma, but it’s more an association, and like the Ayers-Obama one, it’s just that.

I’m extremely happy that I got a chance to see Nelson Mandela today. He doesn’t do many public appearances anymore, and aside from Wednesday’s election, it’ll be difficult to say when I’d be able to see him next. He’s such an incredible symbol of South Africa, and I couldn’t help but get goosebumps and stand dumbly star-struck as I saw him only a mere stone’s throw away. Still, I had a job to do: check out our Times video here: http://multimedia.thetimes.co.za/videos/2009/04/rock-stars-madiba-and-msholozi/

Check out more pictures in the following post!

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One Response

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  1. That’s awesome! You’ll remember this experience forever.


    April 19, 2009 at 9:41 pm

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