1918. No end in sight, when you were born, to the Great War; no signs, yet, of the sudden collapse of Germany and the coming Armistice. A fitting birth, perhaps, in a time of world conflagration, for the child who would become the man who would symbolise the end of apartheid, and loom so large in the story of its ending.
1918. The scattered homesteads, the quiet rolling hills of rural Transkei, not so different then, from now: except that there would have been no helicopters clattering overhead. Helicopters had not yet been invented. No jets, swooping like the wings of one giant bird, low over your birthplace, announcing your coming. They were there to announce your departure.
No tarred roads, either, to carry your coffin, and feel the tread of your military escort; to witness the motorcades of dignitaries from far and wide – across these hills and villages, this countryside, this nation. From across the world.
If Hobsbawm’s Short Twentieth Century began with the Great War, the War to end all Wars, and ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall, and collapse of the Soviet Union, then your long life encompassed it all, and transcended it.
Your Long Walk to Freedom. Ending where it began. It is good to think of you now, at peace with your ancestors; returned to the soil from which you came, to the hills where you guarded your family’s sheep, made mischief and song, and dreamed of the future.
Our fallen hero is gone. Long live Mandela, long live!