A Hassocks based charity worker has witnessed the moving tributes of a nation celebrating the life of Nelson Mandela.
Steve Lewis leads a global health advocacy team for the charity ‘RESULTS’ and was in Cape Town for discussions on HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis (TB) when news came through of Mandela’s death at midnight local time.
Phones were buzzing in the hotel where Steve was staying, with everyone wanting to talk about Mandela.
The next day, Steve led an advocacy workshop on TB where a minutes’s silence was held in Mandela’s memory.
He said: “We had black and white participants in the workshop and they all wanted to speak about what Mandela meant to them and his role in bringing world attention to HIV and TB.
“A black participant said Mandela brought freedom to us but one of the white participants said he had brought freedom to ‘all of us’.
“As a child, she had played with a black girl next door, who was her best friend but as she grew older she was not allowed to play with her anymore and she had never understood why. Now she works in a totally mixed health service and it was very moving listening to her talking about the freedom they all had from prejudice.”
As the day progressed, long queues began forming in the centre of Cape Town, with thousands of people waiting to sign books of condolence.
Steve was able to sign one of the books on behalf of the Hassocks and Hurstpierpoint Labour Party, which he chairs.
“I felt privileged to be able to do that because Labour members campaigned against apartheid,” he said.
“Looking around, some people were visibly upset by Mandela’s death but others were celebrating his life. I decided to catch the ferry to Robben Island and the buses were full of people chanting and singing. It was a very moving experience.
“At Mandela’s prison cell there were people laying flowers. His cell was so small, you virtually couldn’t walk two paces. It was the size of a cupboard you might put a vacuum in. Everywhere you looked in the prison there were thick bars.”
Steve’s guide was a former political prisoner who told him how much the anti-apartheid movement had meant to everyone incarcerated for being activists in the ANC. News of peaceful demonstrations in the West had filtered through to them and given them hope.
Steve, who had joined vigils and demonstrations against apartheid in the 1980s, said: “I felt proud that we in the West had played our part.”