Reflections on Nelson Mandela

The staff and community of Spence-Chapin stand in solidarity with our partners in South Africa, the Johannesburg Child Welfare Society, who are mourning the loss of Nelson Mandela. The Executive Director of Jo'burg Child Welfare, Lyn, shares her two experiences meeting Mr. Mandela.

The first occasion was his birthday after becoming President. Jo'burg Child Welfare was contacted and asked to organize a birthday party for street children from all over South Africa which was held in Johannesburg at Gold Reef City. Children were bused, came by train or flew to Jo-burg for the day.  I happened to be on holiday in KZN and my husband insisted that I should not miss being at the party, so he paid for me to fly back to Jo'burg for the day. I traveled to Durban very early in the morning and, coincidentally, I happened to be on a plane full of street children. Their excitement was so palpable, it could have lifted the plane off the runway.  At the luncheon, Madiba came around to talk to each guest, holding hands with each person throughout and thanking everyone for the contribution made to children's services.

My next meeting was most unexpected. I had been given a scholarship to attend a course at Babson College in Boston and wanted to give the sponsors a memorable gift.  I bought the book 'Long Walk to Freedom' and asked a board member who was married to a cabinet minister whether she could have the book autographed by Madiba.  He had been out of the country and the board member managed to get around his gatekeeper.  Madiba indicated that the only time available was at 07:00 am on the day I was flying to the US.  I received a telephone call at 07:15 am to say that I should quickly get to his home, as he wished to meet me over coffee.  Needless to say, I was totally overawed.

Lyn explains that Nelson Mandela had a close connection with Jo'burg Child Welfare because his previous wife, Winnie, was a social worker at JCW in the 1960's. Lyn writes, "Jo'burg Child Welfare was also blessed with Madiba's generosity. Our Thembalethu Street Girls Project in the inner city was one of the three beneficiaries that received a donation from Madiba following his Nobel Peace Prize in 1993."

Lyn remembers that Madiba was humble and thanked her for her dedication and contribution made to children's services. She was struck by "the selfless attitude shown by a man who gave his life to ensure freedom for all in South Africa. He strongly understood the importance of children being protected and raised with a family despite his incarceration that denied him the opportunity to be part of his own children's upbringing."

We mourn together with our partners and the people of South Africa at this difficult time, and we echo Lyn's words: "It is important for us, however, to celebrate his life and emulate his values."