Born in the Eastern Cape and spending his working career in Johannesburg before being imprisoned on Robben Island for his political beliefs, Nelson Mandela doesn’t have many ties to KwaZulu-Natal. Yet, it was here, in KZN, that two of the most historic events in Mandela’s life took place. The occasions could almost be described as the beginning and end of Mandela’s fight for freedom, dividing his life into two distinct parts.

Nelson Mandela’s Ethiopian passport, issued in 1962, in the name of David Motsamayi

The first took place on the 5th August 1962, the day that Mandela was arrested just outside of Howick. He had made the trip to KZN to meet with Albert Luthuli in order to discuss the ANC’s relationship with the PAC. Mandela and his driving partner and friend and comrade, Cecil Williams, were on their way back to Johannesburg when they noticed a car filled with white men shoot past them. In his autobiography, The Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela speaks of that moment:

I knew in that instant that my life on the run was over; my seventeen months of ‘freedom’ were about to end.

Memorial at the Nelson Mandela Capture Site, Howick, KZN
Memorial at the Nelson Mandela Capture Site, Howick, KZN

Claiming to be a chauffeur, Mandela identified himself as David Motsamayi, the name of one of his former clients, and an alias that Mandela used while on the run. After asking a number of questions, Sergeant Vorster, who according to Mandela looked unkempt, presumably the result of having waited in his car for a number of days for Mandela to pass through Howick, replied with “Ag, you’re Nelson Mandela, and this is Cecil Williams, and you are under arrest!”.

The pair were detained in separate cells, allowing Mandela time to contemplate his future:

I had always known that arrest was a possibility, but even freedom fighters practise denial, and in my cell that night I realised I was not prepared for the reality of capture and confinement.

Mandela was charged with incitement, and leaving the country without a passport, and on the 7th November 1962, was sentenced to five years in prison. He would go on to spend a total of 27 years behind bars after being convicted of sabotage, and narrowly escaping the death penalty.

Nelson Mandela casting his ballot, 27th April 1994, Inanda, KZN
Nelson Mandela casting his ballot, 27th April 1994, Inanda, KZN

Fast forward some 32 years and you arrive at the 27th April 1994, the day of South Africa’s first democratic elections, the day, ultimately that Nelson Mandela and his comrades had been fighting for, for the previous decades. Mandela chose to cast his ballot, the first ever of his life, at Ohlange High School in Inanda, an area that had been rife with political violence, and the final resting place of John Dube, the first president of the ANC.

This African patriot had helped found the organization in 1912, and casting my vote near his grave site brought history full circle, for the mission he began eighty-two years before was about to be achieved.

An aerial photograph of people queuing to vote in South Africa's first democratic elections, 27th April 1994
An aerial photograph of people queuing to vote in South Africa’s first democratic elections, 27th April 1994

I thought of Oliver Tambo, and Chris Hani, and Chief Luthuli, and Bram Fischer. I thought of our great African heroes, who had sacrificed so that millions of South Africans could be voting on that very day; I thought of Josiah Gumede, GM Naicker, Dr Abdullah Abdurahman, Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Yusuf Dadoo, Moses Kotane. I did not go into that voting station alone on April 27; I was casting my vote with all of them.

Today, the 18th July 2018, would have been Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday. Every year on this day people all over the world take time out of their busy schedules to give something back to society, in honour of the many years of service that Mandela gave to his country, and ultimately the world.

Locally there have been countless activities to commemorate this very special day that marks 100 years since the birth of the man who would go on to change the course of South African history. Happy birthday Madiba! You are no longer with us, but your spirit lives on through the love for humanity you left behind.

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