Tag Archives: Madiba

Hello Nelson. Cool shirt!

Yesterday on World Book Day while I was in Galway in Dubray Books I did a small exercise with one of the groups, they were from Scoil Ida. It was on the subject of Mandela.

I was delighted to hear that they knew so much about him and so obviously admired him. Fair play to the teachers concerned!

I thought I would write down some of the things they wrote, which were things they would like to say to him if he had visited Galway and then paid a surprise visit to their school. Some great conversations would have been had.

So, here goes:

‘Hello Sir, My name is Loretta Ojo. How are you? Were you able to cooperate with life when you were younger? It is very stunning to meet you as you are a true leader of Africa.’

Anon. ‘What was it like to take a stand? You took a stand and you were knocked down but you got back up. The world looks up to you as you achieved your dream. How does that feel?’

‘Was life hard for you when you were young? Was it tough?’

‘Hello Nelson. Cool shirt! I’m Karolina – why did you come all the way here?’

(I gave them this picture of him – hence the cool shirt!)

‘You are an inspiration to our world. You have stood up for yourself and others using peace. You are strong at heart and I’m stunned that I would actually meet the world’s best leader’

‘How did you feel when you were put in jail?’

‘Hello my name is Lucja and I think you are an amazing, inspiring person and a role model. You didn’t deserve to be locked up for  27 years. You deserve all the best things in the world and all the people will forever be in debt to you. I can’t believe I can actually meet you!’

‘Hello I’m Ania. Did you choose to free the people? Do you think that someone else could have done it? Why did the white people treat the black people so badly?’

‘Hello my name is Aoife Campbell. I’m very happy to meet you. I think you are the most brave, kind and clever person in the world. You have done great work for your country. You are an inspiration to me. Thank you for meeting me, you are my hero.’

‘Hi, are you having a good day? You look very nice today.’

‘What is your favourite season?’

‘Hi, you are a really good person, kind and gentle and by the way, can I have your autograph? It was nice to meet you.’

‘How are you so brave and confident? Wow! You are my inspiration, how do you stand up for yourself? I can’t believe I got to meet you.’

‘This is such an honour. I think you are so amazing. Were you not scared?’

‘Hi. I’m so glad to meet you. You are so caring and generous. I wish I and other people could be like you.’

‘Hello. How do you think life should be? Why did you want to be President and was it easy?’

Nelson: Hello and how are you?  Me: My name is Shauna.  Nelson: Well, nice to meet you. Me: When you were in school what did you learn?’

‘Wow! OMG! How much time do I have? You’re so cool. How are you so brave?’

‘I can’t believe I’m actually meeting you. My name is Emily, I’m eleven years old and I love art and reading.’

‘What is it like to be you? Do you love what you do?Why did you come here? Thank you for listening to me, you are a brave man.’

‘Did you get any food or drink in jail?’

‘Hello Nelson Mandela. My name is Evelyn Byrne. I think everything you said was correct and that everyone should have equal rights and not to judge others and we must live life to the fullest. Your words have changed the world and have made people think about things that were wrong.’

‘You gave light when the rest of the world was dark, you gave faith when the rest of the world gave up, you gave peace when the rest of the world was at war.’

‘Hello my name is Grainne and you are my hero.’

‘Hello my name is Divine and it is an honour to meet you. I wrote you a poem but sorry I didn’t finish it.’


I, along with millions of other people, learnt last night of the death of Nelson Rolihlala Mandela.  And yes, he was 95 years old and he was very ill so it was not unexpected. But that doesn’t matter. He may have been 95 years old, he may have been very ill but he was still himself. And mightily beloved. It is the thing about death, the bald, awful knowledge that that person no longer lives; that we can no longer talk to them, that we cannot hear them. In the case of Madiba there is his family who now know this – a huge extended family, many of whom shared his home. There is his wife, Graca Machel, who has herself lived through such tragedy but also lived a life full and strong. Their loss is inconceivable. For many others not just in South Africa but all over the world, his loss is felt deeply.

Speaking for myself I do not mourn him for his role in the process of reconciliation in South Africa, I do not mourn him for his lack of bitterness, I do not mourn him for his statesmanship. I mourn him for who he was. And I know it is hard to separate the man from the politician, the man from the revolutionary and I am not trying to do that. But it was in his inner life that he was so special. He was a person who loved life. He was a good man. A clever man. A thoughtful man and a kind man. No one was beneath him, and I cannot think of any political leader who matches him in this. And this was not humility, it was a genuine interest in other human beings. He was curious and caring. And funny, really funny. He was not, however, as Saki Macozoma so aptly said tonight, a teddy bear. Madiba had a core of steel and an authority about him that would be remembered by those who crossed him and those who were lead by him. He knew his own mind. With his death we have lost that. Over the past years we have also lost many of the generation who grew up with him: Oliver Tambo, a gentle soul and a fierce revolutionary, Walter Sisulu, softly spoken, highly principled and Govan Mbeki. People like Phyllis Naidoo, people for whom the struggle for justice and for an end to Apartheid was their life. That generation moved to a different tempo and their beliefs shaped the way they lived and shaped the way that South Africa was born. I feel lucky to have been a part of that.

In President Zuma’s announcement of Mandela’s death he said ‘ we saw in him what we seek in ourselves.’  and that is so true. I am so sad he is no longer with us, I wish he could have had many more years in freedom. I wish I could turn the clocks back. But we can’t – and so I am glad he is at least now free from pain and sadness. And I hope that in some way his death leads to a renewal of vows amongst South Africans – a renewal of the things we do look for in ourselves: kindness, fairness, hope, generosity, honesty and integrity.

Below is a recording of Another Country, a Mango Groove song written at a time when South Africa was on the verge of becoming a democracy. A dark time when many lost their lives.

To be the best you can be

Nelson Mandela has, in the course of his extraordinary life, said many wise things. This morning I was thinking about one in particular:

‘There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living’ Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.

Given that this blog is (mostly!) about stories, writing and books I was thinking about this in relation to writing. Writing, whether creatively in fiction or non-fiction, is self directed. You have to find the time and the space to do it, no one else can do that for you. It is from you, you yourself have to extract it from your head and put it down. If you are writing, whether for a living or for pleasure, you owe it to yourself to be the very best you can, to ignore your own excuses as to why you haven’t finished or why it is not as good as you would like it to be. It is in your hands.

I have been lucky in that I am in a position where I have the time and space to do this – it is an absolute privilege and I treasure it. But I know I could do more.  Time passes quickly and as a writer you need to be able to ask yourself at the end of each day, ‘what have I written? and is it good?’  If the answer is ‘nothing’ then you are failing yourself. There are days when my answer is ‘nothing’ and it should not be so.

There is more though to what he said – because to be the best we can means being the best we can not only for ourselves but for others. He has lived that to the full. He has, at every turn, done the right thing for others. He continues to do that. South Africa and the world have been made richer by his life  and it is why he remains beloved by so many. He is a one off. Just one look at that smile will tell you that!

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela