Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela means different things to different people around the world. To many, he is the symbol of unity, peace and freedom. He is the ‘Father of the Nation’ in South Africa. He is the leader of a band of men and women who delivered equality in a country ravaged by apartheid for many years.

The Illuminati has everyone intrigued lately and you don’t need me to tell you about the theories that tie Nelson Mandela to the Illuminati. There have even been suggestions that US President Barack Obama, alleged to be a senior in the Illuminati, is visiting South Africa to see to the spirit of Mandela as he lies vulnerable and critical in hospital.

The Illuminati theories confuse me. The politics of the ANC confuse me even more but I must say, lately they have been very entertaining especially with the ‘Great Battle of Poo’ in the Western Cape. Many people have explained to me why they think Mandela is a sell-out. That’s okay too but that is not what I want to talk about. I want to tell you about what I do understand, my Nelson Mandela.

I had just become a teenager when he was released from prison. To be honest, I had never paid much attention to the news and had never even heard his name until one day when people filled the streets chanting his name and shouting “Amandla awethu”. My parents ordered us inside the house while they joined in the singing and dancing. I saw him for the first time on TV, apparently similar scenes were going on all over the country and they were showing everything on the small screen. He waved a symbolic fist and in his other hand, he held a woman’s hand, his wife.

I saw a tall man with broad shoulders who looked all too powerful and yet strangely humble in a dark suit. I liked him immediately. By then I had already learned a bit of English and I could understand why this huge crowd was happy to see him. So, white people had arrested this man because he wanted black people to study in vernacular languages, live in nice houses and raise their families in peaceful communities. I liked this tall man.

I started paying attention whenever he spoke. I would turn up the volume whenever he came on the television screen. Politics were just like Chinese to me at that age and come to think of it; they still are but when Mandela spoke, politics made perfect sense to me. His politics were the politics of my mother and my father. His politics were about fairness, justice, health, employment and education; basically, life.

My mother had always said that teachers don’t get paid enough and my dad would always have a story to tell my mother about his racist white boss. I liked Mandela because somehow he seemed to have a plan to solve my parents’ problems. In the bus on my way to school, old men and women spoke animatedly about voting for Mandela to become president. They believed his presidency would be the ideal solution to South African problems.

Wow! Everybody was talking about him. There were posters everywhere. The background of the poster was always an ANC banner covered with his smiling face. Thinking back to those posters, I realise that I never really paid attention to the green, gold and black background. It was his smile that engraved itself on my memory, a genuine smile that seemed to say “things will get better”. I didn’t completely understand what exactly was the South African problem, why didn’t the white people like us? I believed that my Nelson Mandela sincerely wanted to fix this problem. I trusted him.

Prior to the release of Nelson Mandela and the first democratic elections in South Africa, the most excitement I had seen was whenever Kaizer Chiefs won a big game. I could almost smell the excitement at the voting station near our house. It was all over the news. I wanted to know who this man really was; what his story was and why everyone spoke so highly of him. I read and things started to make sense.

When Nelson Mandela became the first black president of South Africa, we had a braai at my house. It was a big deal. Over the years, I have referred to his inaugural address for many quotes but one that sticks out is: “Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world.” Maybe this quote stuck because they had it on television, radio and print ads everywhere. For me, this summed up what this man was about and lucky me, he was my black president! I had sung along with Brenda Fassie when she reminisced about her ‘Black President’ but years later, Nelson Mandela had become my black president too.

The thing with Nelson Mandela is that you don’t even have to meet him to know him. When people who have met him speak about him, you feel like you were there. When he says that the children need a school and this is what needs to happen, you know it will be done. When he’s on television, you stop what you are doing, shut up, sit down and turn up the volume as if he has just walked into your lounge. You laugh when he laughs and when he smiles, here I go with that smile again but yes, when he smiles people believe in the future.

When you love Nelson Mandela the way I do, you start noticing the things he loves and you start believing ridiculous things. One of those was sport. In that regard, it was quite easy to cement my love for him because I love sport too. Also, a part of me is very old-fashioned and my biggest measure of a man is the level of leadership he exudes. When Mandela believed the Springboks would win the Rugby World Cup, I believed. When Mandela believed Bafana Bafana, silly name and all, would become the champions of Africa, I believed. When Mandela believed the most ridiculous thing since he believed apartheid would be abolished, I was like: “Maybe he smokes too.” I had no choice, Mandela believed FIFA would let South Africa host the Soccer World Cup and so, I believed too. Look what happened…

I have always been a bit of a wild child and I have never really had any issues with believing in the ridiculous. What my Nelson Mandela did that was so special was make me feel like my flair for the ridiculous is socially acceptable. It’s okay to dream ridiculous dreams and more than that, it’s quite okay to take those dreams to the bank if you are willing to work like an ant to make them come true. It’s okay to dream so big that when you present a proposal to investors, they look at you and think that a mad person has walked into their offices. Blame it on Mandela that I know that one day I will sit with a South African president and his panel and help write the State of the Nation Address.

Whenever I read anything written by and about my Nelson Mandela, I feel like somewhere in there, he was speaking to me directly. How could he have known that I feel that way sometimes? How could he possibly have known that I worry about not being good enough sometimes?

When I went to join hundreds of well-wishers outside the hospital in Pretoria last week, I left him a note and told him I would write about him. This is me keeping my promise and I will continue to write about my Nelson Mandela. He has been generous and has given me a whole lifetime of stories to tell.

My prayer for my Nelson Mandela is that of strength and comfort. I pray for Jah Jah to take over and ease the burden that poor health has placed on Mandela. I pray for his family to find the strength and wisdom to overcome their differences and be the pillar that he needs in this trying time. I pray for my country to live the values that my Nelson Mandela has always spoken to each of us about. I pray for our ridiculous dreams. I pray for my Nelson Mandela.