My mother’s dream

By - Tuesday 17th December, 2013

In a first for the Citizen, local resident Patsy Cummings gives us ‘The View from Croydon’ and explains how a titan of the world stage inspired her and so many others

Image by [Duncan]. Used under Creative Commons License.

‘We salute you, Mr Mandela’ was the front page story in May 1994, when history changed forever. Nelson Mandela had become the first black president of a free South Africa. At the same time, a survey in America suggested that there was some support for a separate black political party – according to the poll, Jesse Jackson was the most likely leader. At that time it was hard to imagine that America could ever have a black president. There were rumours that the revolutionary Cuban President Fidel Castro had suffered a stroke – those rumours had been quashed. And in London, one headline read, ‘Amnesty call for illegal immigrants’, while another was surrounding an inquiry about the death of Joy Gardner – stark contrasts.

The world was changing in 1918. WWI ended in Europe and British women over the age of 30 were given the right to vote. In July of that same year, in a very small village in Johannesburg, a child was born who was destined to change the world and become a symbol of peace and reconciliation. Rolihlahla – Madiba – Nelson Mandela. The story has been told; he was born into a country characterised by apartheid and racial hate, and joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1942 to fight against this oppression. Of the 27 years of imprisonment, 18 years were spent on Robben Island. In 1993 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with F.W. de Klerk, and 1994 saw him elected president by all races in a democratic election.

He was a man who was condemned as a terrorist by some and called a freedom fighter by others. A man who was incarcerated for 27 years. A man who, after all of this, was respected, admired and loved by millions of people in every continent.

What have I learnt from my hero? The capacity to forgive, unconditionally, and to be the change you want to see no matter how challenging

We are all born without hate or malice, but society plays a cruel game with some of us. History teaches us to learn the lessons to change the wrongs from the past for a better future, and sometimes there emerges one figure from simple origins, who epitomises so much that is good and pure, who is iconic in life and will leave a legacy for all time.

I did not get to meet Madiba; I have met his grandson Mandla and his wife Graça Machel, and even F.W. de Klerk. But I, with thousands of others, was invited by Mandela to his home in South Africa – travelling first class in his pocket – when he spoke to us in Trafalgar Square in 1996 for Make Poverty History.

What have I learnt from my hero? The capacity to forgive, unconditionally, to be the change you want to see no matter how challenging, to believe in people and your community and together work for that change.

Just like 22nd November 1963 (JFK) and 5th April 1968 (MLK), you will remember where you were and who you were with on 5th December 2013, the day we lost Madiba. I was in Fairfield Halls for the screening and Q & A for the documentary Riot From Wrong, a film which emulated Madiba’s message of doing something positive to make a lasting change from a place of darkness, produced by young  people following the 2011 riots.

I saw someone look on Twitter and bow their head. I checked and read the news of the father of our nation dying on the anniversary of the death of my own father. I put my hand to my mouth to hold in the audible sobs and the tears rolled down my face. Minutes later I received a call from my mother. I left the room and, through tears, she told me that she had a dream the night before – my father told her that someone she knew was coming and he would meet with him very soon.

Mandela was hailed as ‘The Last Great Liberator’ by Barack Obama, and more than a hundred world leaders paid their respects at a memorial service in Johannesburg on Tuesday. At his funeral on Sunday, as it did when he passed, time stopped for another brief moment.

Patsy Cummings

Patsy Cummings

Patsy has a background in finance, as well as experience with the voluntary sector and charities, community organising and working with young people. She is a Labour candidate for council in Fairfield, Croydon.

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