My Letter to Madiba, by Adaobi Nkeokelonye

Adaobi Nkeokelonye

I wanted the Queen back, but now the King is gone!

Dear Madiba,

I wonder why I did not get into the social media excitement of mourning you! After a deep introspection at the wave and frenzy given to your demise globally, I asked myself why I felt less loyal to you all these years, and why I think people are giving you much more honor than I felt you alone deserve. With some reflection, I acknowledged that somewhere in my heart, the desire of that feminist child I was, still felt strong subconsciously.

Over the years, I wanted Queen Winnie back, but now you are gone. Madiba, I had fantasized through your time in jail that one day, the African King and Queen who fought for their people’s freedom will together be honored. I imagined you both standing tall, with clenched fists thrusted into the Zephyr and with a shout of Amandla, declare that Africa will live happily ever after again. But as it was just my fantasy, it never became a reality.

I felt your divorcing her shrouded her contribution to freedom fighting; it was like only in marriage to you, was she made relevant. I felt you helped abdicate her as Mother of Africa. Winnie was your fighter, for 27years, she kept you alive, by putting your story out there; she gave us the Madiba we now adore and she heard your last breath!

Yet this divorce masked everything. Unlike a man, a woman charged with corruption and violation of human right, and most of all Marital unfaithfulness to a husband absent for three decades should not be forgiven, protected, or honored with love. She must not be part of the pristine leadership circles that we have in Africa.

Decades after my heartbreak from this legendary separation, I realize that some of my sentiments perhaps were subjective coming from the heart of a then 12year old girl who understood less of the politics and fabric of marriage, leadership and the power relations therein. For this, I felt less loyal to you all these years.

Madiba, you were not my greatest Hero, but what I saw at your funeral quickened me; it made me think again. Now I realize that with the innocence of my childhood, I had judged you too hard. As you once said, it takes a sinner to be a saint. In retrospect, I acknowledge that what you represented was more than just a husband. I can confess that even though you may have failed as the idealist husband of my childhood to Africa’s Queen Winnie, you never failed us as a Father. In that role, you stood strong and tall like the African Iroko. Hence I will call you Tata!

Tata, you embodied forgiveness. You may not have forgiven the woman that jailed your heart easily, but you sincerely forgave all those who tried to jail your body and your dream for Africa. In that, your spirit found the freedom to fly into many loving hearts in all nooks and cranny. Your forgiveness did not seek justice; it sought for peace and reconciliation. In our political landscape noted for war; a region where children received guns from Santa Claus and know the trigger as the only resolver of conflict, your acts of reconciliation remains an exemplar.

Like the current president of my country, I remember you were sometime a shoe-less school boy, but unlike him, your leadership supported structures that will ensure that in the future, no child will be shoe-less or school-less. Poverty is not good, in many ways, you reminded us that poverty is not a native of Africa, but a traveler. Sometime in the past, I remember you had said that “overcoming poverty is not a task of charity; it is an act of justice. Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man made and can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human being. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. You can be that generation let your greatness blossom”. To us young Africans living in a landscape marked by extreme poverty and conflict, your departure makes these words our duty call.

Pray for us Tata, pray that we learn that it has fallen on our generation to make Africa great again; that we understand that such greatness does not come with complacency, but as your life teaches us, we need a bit of anger. Pray that our eyes open to see that true men like you who fought for Africa are now but a dying breed.

Tata, you taught us that we must always do something about what we do not like, talking about it is never enough.

Pray God to grant us the wisdom of knowing how to commit to a cause in the same way that men like you and women like Winnie staked their lives. May we learn that true change does not happen by tweeting, sharing pictures and articles on social media. Wearing ribbons or keeping memorabilia of support for social causes may only add entertainment value. May we learn that with a little more courage, we can still rise under our scotching sun.

Thank you for gracing our world with your presence Tata. I cannot deny you greatness, for according to Mencius, “the great man is he who does not lose his child’s heart”, and in truth, you won our hearts. If truly the spirit of the dead watches over the living, I pray thee Tata to watch over Africa. Daughters and Sons of the Sun do not say goodbye, hence I will say Kachifo; until dawn comes, Rest well Tata! Africa misses you already…

Adaobi Nkeokelonye is a Fellow of LEAD (Leadership for Environment and Development). She presently explores the linkages between fiction writing and international development issues on her site
Twitter: @adankeokelonye

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