I sit here wondering, am I Australian or South African? Born Australian, now living in South Africa for more than a third of my life. An Australian who cried on Friday morning and felt a tremendous sense of loss along with the rest of South Africa when I woke up to the news that Nelson Mandela had passed away in the night. With him passed away a certain security, safety in the knowledge that he existed, with his iconic goodness, integrity and humanity.

There is something about greatness going. Passing. Something deeper than I really understand. Something that presses into me like a rude shoulder on the Tube and asks of me – what now? South Africa can be the violent and scary place that it’s portrayed to be in the media and by ex-South Africans (why do they call themselves ex? I don’t call myself ex-Australian. I consider myself very Australian, although my accent is, this is hard to admit, gone.) However what is often not portrayed is that South Africa is a place of the most generous spirit, the most glorious singing souls dancing barefoot whilst eating roasted mielies (corn). When Mandela died last week, the icon of ‘empowerment’ of ‘love, ‘the father of South Africa’ was gone, and he left behind a devastating crater in everyone’s hearts.

I never personally knew Mandela. I read his book Long Walk to Freedom. (It’s the first present my husband ever gave me when we were going out.) I even saw him at his grandson Mandla Mandela’s inauguration as chief. I didn’t think I would be affected by his death, after all I’m not South African, I never lived through Apartheid. I have zero history, zero cultural ties with the land I live in. Yet on Friday morning I wept, trying to hide my tears from my Princes on the morning school run.

Why was I was so devastated? What came to mind was a book by Jungian psychologist Robert A. Johnson (I highly recommend his books) called ‘Inner Gold’. In it Johnson explains how each one of us project our greater selves on to other people and our job is to reclaim it. He writes:

Loving is a human faculty. We love someone for who that person is. We appreciate and feel a kinship and a closeness. Romantic love, on the other hand is a kind of divine love. We deify the other person, without knowing it, to be the incarnation of God for us. Being in love is a deep religious experience, for many people the only religious experience they’ll have, the last chance God has to catch them.

One reason we hesitate to carry our own gold is that it is dangerously close to God. Our gold has Godlike characteristics, and it is difficult to bear the weight of it.’

I think that Mandela’s greatness was his humanness. He never wanted to be deified, which only made us love him more. He is the man who wanted everyone to be leaders, to be their best selves, just as he wasn’t scared of being his best self.

Which of course brings up one of my favourite quotes of all time that Mandela quoted during his inauguration as President and which I continually repeat to myself and on this blog,

‘Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?’ 

Mandela saw the gold. The gold in himself, in Apartheid, on Robben Island, in F.W. de Klerk, in us, in humanity. As I mourn Mandela I feel that I’m mourning my best self. The self that he wanted everyone to be. Now he’s gone there is no choice but to step up, take responsibility as he did, whether it’s comfortable or not and be that light. Overcome our death adder venom of fear and tap into Madiba’s gold, so that South Africa, one person at a time, fulfills Mandela’s legacy. A legacy of humility, a generosity of heart and a kindness of spirit that made the small feel great and the great humbled by his presence.