Gay McDougall’s Reflections on “Madiba Moments”

NESRI board member Gay McDougall worked tirelessly against Apartheid in solidarity with Black South Africans and anti-apartheid activists. She just returned from South Africa where she paid her last respects to Nelson Mandela.  Below she generously shares her reflections:


I have just returned home from Nelson Mandela’s funeral.  It was

both moving and memorable.  Even the long early morning journey to the

small village in the Transkei where he was born and grew up had a

meaningful quality to it.  His wish to be buried in Qunu was a

statement about who he really was.  For all of us who made the journey

to stand by his gravesite, Qunu was his own epitaph on the measure of

his life.


As I joined with others to place a handful of dirt into his open grave

I felt really grateful for the honor and privilege of having known

such a person.  He and I had shared a magical moment as I stood next

to him when he voted for the first time in 1994.  Sharing that moment

created a bond between us that he mentioned every subsequent time that

we met.  He would say: “You know Gay, they have flashed that picture

of us around the world.”


There are not many words of praise that have not been showered on

Mandela over the past several days.  During the Memorial (several days

prior to the funeral) Heads of State and family spoke of what his life

had meant to the family, to the nation and the World.  At the funeral

in Qunu longtime Comrades like Ahmed Kathrada, who spent those long

years on Robben Island with Mandela, gave deeply touching farewells.


South Africa’s main TV stations were continually interviewing people

of note about their “Madiba Moments.” Ordinary South Africans also

got air time. There was a continuous runner at the bottom of the TV

screen on all stations that displayed tweets from ordinary South

Africans saying what he meant to the nation.  Even if I had not

attended the funeral, the experience of being in South Africa and feeling an

entire nation mourn was unlike anything I had experienced since the

John Kennedy assassination.


Right now I won’t add my own praise songs to those of his

compatriots.  I can only say how incredible it has been to have been

touched by his magic.