Boitshoko Kalebe, an exchange student to Deerfield Academy from South Africa in 2012-2013, spoke with The Scroll about the recent passing of Nelson Mandela.
Scroll: What impact has Nelson Mandela had on South Africa?
BK: Nelson Mandela, also known as Madiba [a polite and intimate name from Mandela’s clan, according to the Nelson Mandela Foundation], has had a tremendous impact on South Africa and the country that it is today. He fought for equality and peace in South Africa. He was the first black democratically- elected president, and he wanted to eliminate the apartheid regime peacefully to create a non-sexist and non-racist country. He drove South Africa’s transition from a country governed by an oppressive system to a democratic one. The biggest impact that he had was giving a nation, which was silenced for decades, its voice back. Democracy alone means nothing, but democracy with a voice and understanding is everything.
Scroll: How has Mandela influenced you?
BK: Because of Madiba’s contribution towards the fight against “white domination” and the struggle against apartheid, I was born into a free and loving society.
Madiba also played a huge role in the founding and building of my school, the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls . . . It is because of this school that the trajectory of my life has changed. He made me realize through [my] amazing education…that my life and purpose is bigger than myself; it is to be of service to others.
Scroll: How has he influenced the future of South Africa and the world?
BK: Mandela’s fight for humanity and his continuous contribution towards uplifting others have inspired many people to dedicate their time to creating a better South Africa.
Because of his courage and strong will, South Africans live in a democracy. He taught the world that not all battles have to be fought with violence. People expected a civil war after his election as President of South Africa, but was there one? No. He proved to the world that an eye for an eye will turn the whole world blind.
[Mandela’s greatest impact] was giving this nation its voice back. This voice is the reason that [South Africa’s] education system, crime rate and poverty rate will improve tremendously in the future.
And this is all inspired by leaders, such as Madiba, who chose to have a voice in apartheid and thus gave a voice to the youth of today—the future leaders of not only this country and continent but the larger world.
Scroll: How is Mandela regarded in South Africa? Can you describe the country’s relationship with him?
BK: Madiba is and will always be the biggest icon for this country. In this country he is regarded as the father and green light of the nation, symbolic of growth, hope, forgiveness, peace, love, new beginnings and most importantly ubuntu [a term referring to the complex aspects of human kindness]. Madiba was and will always be the epitome of a free and united South Africa, one of forgiveness and harmony and a reminder that one is because of others.
I cannot even begin to describe the relationship that “we”—I am even humbled to be able to say “we” as a nation had with uTata—because that’s exactly what he was: uTata welikhaya lethu, the father of our nation. We have truly lost a great icon.
Scroll: Where were you, and what did you think when you heard the news?
BK: I was at home, sleeping, when I [was awakened by] the news, and I thought that it was another speculation. When I saw that Mr. Jacob Zuma and Madiba’s family had confirmed his death, I knew it was real. He was really gone.