Through the Eyes of a 7-Year-Old Girl – Mandela Walks Free

On this day, when South Africans celebrate the 20th anniversary of the release of Nelson Mandela, Nomathemba Malinga, Fleishman-Hillard Johannesburg Account Manager, recounts her memories of that historic day….

There I was standing on my little red chair clutching a miniature painted ANC flag that I had shaded the previous day as part of the projects my teacher had asked us to do. The memories of that day are always vivid on my mind.

Even as seven year-olds, we all knew too well who and what the ANC stood for – it was a reality we could not run away from as pupils of Thloreng Primary schools in Orland West, Soweto, situated on the corner of Vilakazi and Moema Streets, where the homes of two Nobel laureates are; Arch-Bishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela.

We all went outside the classrooms, sang and danced to the struggle’s victory songs with the rest of the community as we waited for Nelson Mandela to finally return to his home township. In no time, my father, who was a teacher at Orlando West High School, picked me up and we rushed to Mandela’s old home on Vilakazi Street.

We found a good spot where we could catch a good glimpse of Mandela’s first steps in many decades into his family home. My dad lifted me up and put me on his shoulders. In what felt like a very short wait, the convoy arrived to a loud noise and ululation of the old and the young, children and teachers from the surrounding schools, scores of Umkhonto Wesizwe soldiers who were controlling the crowd outside the house.

Soweto had virtually come to a standstill.

As our luck would have it, many of the soldiers were former students of my parents and they let us be in our sweet spot. We witnessed this momentous occasion at close range.

Slowly and with dignity, Mandela climbed out of his car, and punched his fist in the air. A deafening cheer erupted amongst the excited crowd. He touched and shook hands with those who were closer to him, wearing a broad warm smile on his face. That left an everlasting impression on my mind. Wow, although I was only 7 years old, I understood then that my life would be changed forever.

As my father and I walked up to collect my mother from Phefeni Secondary School, a stone throw away from the Mandela house, there was not a single sad face to be seen on the streets of Soweto.

In the years that followed, I never for once forgot the day that changed my life.

Thank you, Tata Mandela for the sacrifice and the foundation you laid for a better tomorrow.