Nelson Mandela’s daughter Makaziwe has described how the family gathered around him to say goodbye. She also describes her own sometimes difficult relationship with her father and the difficulties of living in a divided family. We republish this because it’s an honest and very moving account of the private Mandela and his family.
Makaziwe Mandela, Mr Mandela’s oldest surviving child, was speaking to the BBC’s Komla Dumor.
Here are some excerpts from that interview:
It has been a very long painful period.
As you know because of the type of family we are, you can’t experience the pain and the trauma, and actually now the loss, privately. We are always constantly, people around and the glare and sometimes you feel like screaming, you know, ‘Can you give us peace, just to have that moment as a family?’ It’s been very, very hard.
He was very, very much loved. He knew that he was loved. Being conscious of all the warmth that came from the world, it’s difficult to say, we tried to explain it to him that, you know, people are outside the hospital singing, putting cards and flowers.
So for me I think Tata, until the last moment, heard us. And the children were there, grandchildren were there, you know, Graca was there, so we were always around him even at the last moment we were sitting with him on Thursday the whole day.
They told us Thursday morning that it’s likely and said to me: ‘Maki call everyone that is here that wants to see him and say bye-bye’.
It was the most wonderful day for us because the grandchildren were there, we were there, the professional doctors, and in actual fact when they saw him slipping away, those doctors dedicated their time. They were running shifts, three-hour shifts, 24 hours.
Being there, it was like they were soldiers guarding this… I don’t know whether you understand this… they were soldiers guarding the spirit of a king. Yes, my father comes from royalty.
And so even for the grandchildren I think it was a wonderful moment. Unfortunately there were some grandchildren and my sisters were out, there were some grandchildren who were participating at some event in Brazil.
But for those who were here I think it was a wonderful moment for them.
I was bitter as child because I had a father who was there but not really there.
My father is awkward with his emotions. People don’t understand that because they see the public persona. But Tata had the public persona and the private persona. He couldn’t express his emotions.
He grew up in a society where you had to be seen but not heard, the African culture, where you learnt by emulating the others before you, where as a man you did not show your emotions.
He couldn’t say the words ‘I love you’. I mean even with the grandchildren, if you talk to them, there’s very few moments where Tata has said ‘I love you’.
The way he knew how to show love was to provide for his children. He bought us all houses. That was his way of showing love.
My family has been a very divided family. My father has had three wives, but I try the best I can. I can never say that I am perfect but one of the things that my father really wanted more than anything is that his own children would get along.
I try to be the word of wisdom. I try to bring, even now everybody together, the grandchildren, it was me who will say ‘I think we should inform this one’. Even with Mandla [her nephew] who I just took to court now.
It was me who said to the doctors ‘I think we should call Mandla now to come’ because I think it was important for all of us to have closure and be united.
Surely we’ll still have differences in how we see things, but I think there is a better way of how to deal with issues. My dad has always said to us ‘Charity begins at home’.
I don’t think my father fought just for political freedom. My father also fought for spiritual freedom, to free yourself spiritually.
He talks about the fact that it takes courage to forgive. Forgiveness is a very difficult thing.
I don’t think it was easy… but I think he knew that if you didn’t forgive he would be forever in prison – himself spiritually.
So for me the lesson we can take away from his life is to have the courage to forgive other people… Because if we have the courage to forgive as human beings, there will be no wars that we see around us, there will be no crime, there will be no violence, there will be no conflict, and for me that’s the greatest gift that Tata has given to the world because he also says none of us when we’re born are born hating another.
We are taught to hate.
And if you can teach a human being to hate, you can also teach a human to love, to embrace, to forgive, and for me that’s the greatest lesson.