I remember not knowing what you looked like; at sunrise seeing the regime’s footmen erase your name from walls before the paint had dried.
I remember, as a child, sitting on the back seat of the car on the way to town, and at the top of Hospital Bend, my aunt pointing to Robben Island and saying that was where he lived; where the government had sent you.
I remember the news saying you were a terrorist; and my parents having to carefully explain to my seven-year-old-self how you were a hero to the people; that the news and the government lie.
I remember the first time I saw you – the first time any of us had seen you for decades – walking free from Victor Verster, fist aloft, and in your smile, the uncertainties, violence and angst of those heady days somehow dissipating. The spectacle of your release; the joy of a people unleashed: the chaos of your arrival at the Grand Parade…
I remember your words pulling us back from the brink of fratricidal explosion: “This killing must stop… we must not permit ourselves to be provoked by those who seek to deny us the very freedom Chris Hani gave his life for. Let us respond with dignity”. On that day you already were our President.
I remember a year later – almost to the day – walking to school the day after the elections, and every person I passed, meeting my gaze and smiling at our new found wonderment.
And ten days later, in my school uniform, bunking off and heading to the Parade to hear you speak as our State President: immersing myself in a throng of nationhood and unburdened happiness; being hoisted atop shoulders to cling to a lamp post, to see you.
I remember the farce of the time that I met you: when while working as a waiter at a State Banquet for Bill Clinton, I abandoned my table and cunningly intercepted you … and hugged you before your bodyguards prized the crazy white kid from your smiling and surprised embrace.
I remember when you visited Zackie Achmat on his near-death bed. You probably saved his life, and – through his service – the lives of hundreds of thousands of South Africans in the face of your successor’s madness.
I was there when you had to be hoisted to the stage at the University of Cape Town to celebrate the life of Steve Biko. How at the conclusion of your speech you announced your “retirement” from public life: “Don’t call me; I’ll call you.”
And I will remember this day – alone and bereft in Washington DC – so far from home and the people who have come to call you Tata…
Hamba Kahle Madiba.