To A Long Life…

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

On the night Mandela died, I went to his house and joined the gathering- singing, dancing and reflecting. On my way home, at about 2:00 a.m., I was stopped by a roadblock. Suddenly, the whole convoy was in front of me.  First the rows of military motorbikes, then the hearse. With crystal clarity, I saw his coffin wrapped in the South African flag, and with that, I knew it was really over. I sat crying, alone in my car on a deserted Johannesburg street- mourning my Madiba and all he represented for me.

People standing in front of a house at night. Mourners outside Mandela and Graca Machel's house, Thursday December 5, 2013. Photo: Ngaire Blankenberg.

What a period of mourning it has been. Charged, emotional, incredulous, tender, sad- all the stages of grief and more. These last weeks, we have been thanking Mandela for many things- for hope, for reconciliation, for leadership, for freedom. I thank him also for reminding us how right it is to mourn a man who lived for 95 years. 

Someone on his knees, in front of fence with candles and flowers.

Mourner with candle, Friday December 6, 2013. Photo: Ngaire Blankenberg.

I don’t live in South Africa anymore but was there this week- arriving in Johannesburg on the day before Mandela died and then flying down to Cape Town with the Museum of AIDS in Africa. We set up our (Virtual) Memorial at the International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa asking people if they would like to remember someone they cared about who had died from an AIDS-related illness.  

Flowers and drawings

Tribute in Cape Town.

She was loving and caring to the whole family and I still miss her so much because I can’t live without her, I love you mom. Cecelia Sithembu remembered by Nosipho Sithembu

She was my best friend and the time she died, she had hoped that she was going to be fine. Susan Mandanda, remembered by B Mazanve

I remember you defending me to mom when I couldn't eat specific foods. You were always so kind and loving. I hope you're watching over my cousins. Botshelo Sepheka remembered by Ofentse Mohatla

Many people who visited us had lost more than one person to AIDS. One woman had lost 35 people. Many were so busy surviving they couldn’t mourn properly- so busy trying themselves to stay alive, or to take care of others. 

People filling out Memorial cards.

Museum of AIDS in Africa, ICASA, Cape Town, photo Lindeka Qampi. Photo: Ngaire Blankenberg.

During apartheid, many people disappeared. Eventually they were assumed to have died. No closure. Stuttered grief. Others died through the violence or were murdered by the state. Funerals were mobilization. Grief fuelled anger, anger fuelled action. In this AIDS epidemic, funerals are also about anger, or they are about silences, desperation. Cause of death unknown. Too little, too late.

But this week. This week. A full outpouring of public and private sadness. We remember, We talk, We cry. There is no uprising. There is no injustice. Tata Madiba died because he was old and it was the end. He survived a lot in his time, and he was rewarded with a hard but rich life. To live with dignity, to die with dignity- to be remembered.  

May we live and die in his footsteps. 

A person writing on a book sitting on a table with a portrait of Nelson Mandela and a candle. Her T-shirt says Whom do you remember?

Ngaire, wearing MAA t-shirt, writing in public condolence book for Mandela, Cape Town, Sunday Dec 8, 2013.

Ngaire Blankenberg is a Principal Consultant at Lord Cultural Resources. She is a Canadian-South African currently based in Barcelona Toronto-Based Lord Cultural Resources is the world’s largest cultural professional practice. They’ve been working with the Museum since its early days. Ngaire was involved with the cross- country Public Engagement tour as part of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights content development.

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