By Celestine Okorie, Correspondent South Africa
Nelson Mandela’s giant bronze statue at the foot of the Union Buildings towered even larger than usual, his outstretched arms seemed even wider, and his smile broader at the Mandela Remembrance Walk and Run Monday, as he welcomed those who gathered in his honour.
If ever his presence, warmth and comforting embrace was needed, it was this year – as South Africa and the rest of the world was brought to its knees by a global pandemic that has battered minds, bodies and spirits.
It has been seven years now since Madiba’s passing and like this has been a year like no other, so too the Mandela Remembrance Walk and Run (MRWR) hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Gauteng Provincial Government (GPG) and City of Tshwane as one of the year’s last major family social events to remember Madiba’s massive contribution, was much more muted and intimate this year.
Ordinarily, thousands would gather at the Union Buildings, where in triumph Madiba was inaugurated as South Africa’s first democratic President, and in sadness his body lay in state for a final time in 2013.
But given the times, the event was held virtually this weekend on Saturday 5 and Sunday 6 December, with just a small number of people observing all COVID protocols and gathering at the Union Buildings to do a symbolic 6.7 kilometre walk through the streets of Tshwane in his memory and also to remember all the lives lost globally to the Coronavirus this year.
While the event may have been more subdued, the big upside was that the virtual event allowed particpants across South Africa and the rest of the world to be part of the event over 5, 10 and 21 kilometres. People from as far afield as the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, Zambia, Australia, Belgium, the Democratic Republic of Congo, France, Italy, the Netherlands, India, Zimbabwe and Nigeria participated in the MRWR this weekend, as the event stretched across the globe for the first time.
All participants were awarded a unique virtual medal and certificate to confirm their participation in the 2020 Mandela Remembrance Walk and Run.
“I would like to express our gratitude to all those who took on this challenge and walked and ran for Madiba, despite the difficult times we are experiencing. The number of people who participated from so many different countries tells us that if anything we should retain that element going forward and make this a global event. Solidarity should know no boundaries, gender and religion and this event has once again reinforced that,” said Nelson Mandela Foundation Chief Executive, Sello Hatang..
“We will always miss Madiba. He was an ancestor of hope, but we must miss him thinking about and continuing to deliver hope for those he cared for – the poor and vulnerable who are losing hope and feeling discarded. Events like this help us to continue to support them. At the foundation we also remember this year the many friends we’ve lost, and the many family members so many have lost this year. We remember Zindzi Mandela, who was not only Madiba’s daughter, but a powerful activist and a dear friend of the foundation. We remember people also who were very close to Madiba, like Dennis Goldberg, Andrew Mlangeni, George Bizos, Achmat Dangor, Shaun Johnson, David Dinkins and Jurgen Schadeberg. May their names live forever,” added Hatang.
Gauteng MEC for Sport, Art, Culture and Recreation, Mbali Hlophe, said even though the COVID pandemic resulted in the MRWR’s numbers being restricted this year, it was important to continue to commemorate Madiba’s life and his immense contribution.
“We were able to mitigate having far fewer participants than the thousands we are used to, by covering the event both virtually and physically this year and we are very proud we could continue with this event. It has been a very difficult year for everybody, but we could not – even while going through a global pandemic – allow our global icon and days like this to go unnoticed and not remembered. Change starts with one small step. And we too can take bold steps and make a difference. Even though we are all going through such hardships, the generations before us who fought for our freedoms went through much worse. The parallels serve as a reminder of what we should be grateful for,” said Hlophe.
Madiba’s granddaughter, Ndileka Mandela, said this has been “a very rough year” but that there were positives South Africans could be very proud of.
“Everywhere you look there are people losing loved ones. A day like this brings a lot of things into sharp focus. This is not just a walk, it’s a remembrance walk and we are reminded today of my grandfather’s great moral compass and his capacity to always be considerate of others. Through those qualities, such as wearing masks, sanitizing and being considerate of each others, South Africans have collectively fought the Coronavirus. We have done that through the spirit of ubuntu and caring for our neighbours that my grandfather stood so strongly for,” said Ms Mandela.
Newly-elected Executive Mayor of the City of Tshwane, Cllr Randall Williams, described Madiba as a “unifier” who would have been proud of how people of all persuasions and walks of life gathered in his honour today.
“This year has been an exceptionally difficult year. It shows the long walk Madiba started still has a long way to go. This year has been brutal. We started the lockdown with a recession and the lockdown has made our economic situation so much worse. We have a massive challenge ahead of us, but we need people coming together like they did today, with one clear goal, to make sure Madiba’s vision of an equal, caring society is implemented,” said Cllr Williams.