Fishing with Mandela

Guest post by Willie

A tall grey shadow has been cast over South Africa for almost a week now.

South Africans have many emotions about the passing of one of the most iconic figures of our time.  When the massive display of grief on the passing of Nelson Mandela becomes a bit overpowering, it is easy to become comfortably numb.  Numb to the continued media coverage and bombardment of information.  Amidst this overload of information the “flash mob” event, organised by a local supermarket chain and the Soweto Gospel Choir, paid a fresh and deep felt tribute to South Africa’s hero (watch video here).

Nelson Mandela Statue, Westminster, London. Image by Warko via Wikimedia Commons.

This event was so much simpler than the memorial held for Mandela earlier this week. The memorial received world-wide media coverage, with probably the largest collection of world leaders and other influential people ever gathered in one place. Many sub-plots were played out with traditional opposition meeting and embracing on the day, from Obama and Castro to Winnie and Graca. It certainly was not an event run with military precision, but rather along African time and with African spirit. US President Obama delivered a finely crafted speech (read here), which stopped short of being a landmark speech – perhaps because of the lack of dramatic atmosphere?

Reflecting on South Africa’s turbulent past takes me back to the period before Mandela was released from prison. This period was characterised by polarisation of people along many lines – political, racial and religious. The memory of how well people got on, on an individual rather than group basis, remains stronger than that of the differences of the polarised groups. The best way to explain this time is perhaps to point you to the famous song “The Weeping” by Bright Blue (see video here). The images of the Bright Blue video capture the atmosphere of the time exceptionally well.

The words from the Soweto Gospel Choir flash mob song above then took me further on my journey.

Asimbonanga (we have not seen him)
Asimbonang’ umandela thina (we have not seen mandela)
Laph’ekhon (in the place where he is)
Laph’ehleli khona (in the place where he is kept)
Hey wena (hey you!)
Hey wena nawe (hey you and you as well)
Siyofika nini la’ siyakhona? (when will we arrive at our destination)

If you have been following this blog some of you may know that I have a passion for fishing, especially the lifestyle, adventure and stories telling that it brings.  I grew up at (not in) the Victor Verster prison from which Mandela was finally released in 1990.  My father was a prison warder at Victor Verster and this made it possible to navigate the prison grounds.  Many of my afternoons were spent fishing for trout and bass, in the Berg River close to the prison. Mandela was housed in the old farm house to the north of the prison where a personal prison compound was created for him.  When I went fishing I ventured as close to the compound as I could on my way the river, hoping perhaps to have an impromptu meeting and a chat.  Not sure how I would recognise Mandela as photographs of the man were not available and definitely strictly forbidden at the time.  All I ever saw was a tall grey shadow watching me watching him.  In my imagination I was fishing with Mandela.

Many things have changed since then, but the tall grey shadow still lingers over South Africa, perhaps for a long time to come.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Categories: Guest Bloggers, Random


I am a forestry scientist living and working in the Southern Cape, South Africa.


Subscribe to the Notes from Africa RSS and Twitter feeds to receive updates.

15 Comments on “Fishing with Mandela”

  1. December 13, 2013 at 11:23 am #

    Me thinks your farther and I fall inside the same decade. You and your fishing recollections of a great dream may like this from an old golfer, yes golfer also like fisherman love to waste time and we have our dreams – a hole in one :D. Here my tribute

    • Willie
      December 18, 2013 at 12:41 pm #

      Thank you for your comment. Appreciate your tribute and recollection of meeting the great man. They say that time spend fishing gets added to your life, wonder if the same works for golf?

  2. December 13, 2013 at 12:08 pm #

    What a beautifully written blogpost, Willie.

    I too watched the original video of Bright Blue’s ‘Weeping’ and remembered how things felt in those days of the late 1980s, and I watched the video of Johnny Clegg singing Asimbonanga with Nelson Mandela coming onstage (wow!), and I remembered the emotions of those days… and I loved the flashmob video of the choir singing the same song in that Woollies store… And I sat through the television coverage of the long, long memorial service on Tuesday, with its ups and downs and the unexpected headlines the event generated.

    What an amazing, exciting, emotional time to be living in South Africa!

    Here’s hoping the legacy of Nelson Mandela lives on in our hearts and minds, and that his ideals will be manifested and expressed in all our lives in the coming years!

    • Willie
      December 18, 2013 at 12:41 pm #

      Thank you Reggie, it helps to have a good editor.

      I think you totally get the significance of both past and present events I was referencing. I agree with your sentiments.

  3. GeoRoMancer
    December 13, 2013 at 1:13 pm #

    Thought-provoking post, Willie. Just goes to show what can happen when you go fishing.
    … Hamba Kahle …

    • Willie
      December 18, 2013 at 12:42 pm #

      Thank you for your comment Earthlover. Glad you got some food for thought. Fishing is always an adventure, sometimes with some unexpected twists.
      Sala kahle

  4. Eha
    December 14, 2013 at 2:28 am #

    Thank you Willie for one of the most beautiful personal stories relating to the Madiba. I too stayed up to watch the big Memorial earlier this week, with its many subplots as you so well put it . . . being a big Obama ‘fan’ I thought his speech was nearly a ‘landmark’ one . . . I am so glad to have your insight and the flashmob video and hope you do not mind if I repost all of this . . . with the very best wishes to Lisa and yourself . . .

    • Willie
      December 18, 2013 at 12:42 pm #

      Thank you for the comment. Hope your friends enjoy the story as well. I am grateful that the funeral service on Sunday went without the controversy associated with the memorial service.

  5. December 14, 2013 at 5:23 pm #

    Hi Willie, thank you so much for sharing. It touched my heart.

    • Willie
      December 18, 2013 at 12:43 pm #

      Thank you for the comment, glad you were touched by the story. It has been an emotional time recently.

  6. December 15, 2013 at 8:41 am #

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and great experience with us, Willie. Very touching.

    Francois and I watched the cortège turning into 1Military Hospital on Friday evening. The crowd chanted softly “my President, my President” while the helicopters were hanging above. A memory not to forget.

    • Willie
      December 18, 2013 at 12:45 pm #

      Thank you for the comment. I was curious about going to watch the cortège; it seems that it was a special experience for many people.

  7. Madoqua
    December 17, 2013 at 9:13 pm #

    What a wonderful post and a stirring recollection. How special you must feel to have become part of Mandela’s life in this way. He probably remembered you well.

    • Willie
      December 18, 2013 at 12:45 pm #

      Thank you. I have always wondered if my fishing trips were noticed.

      Hopefully the post provided a slightly different (and more personal) angle on the recent events here in South Africa.

  8. February 26, 2014 at 8:19 am #

    “Many things have changed since then, but the tall grey shadow still lingers over South Africa, perhaps for a long time to come.”

    –Agreed. That shadow will be lingering over this nation for a long long time to come. May it teach us peace in our own generation!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: