Remembering Nelson Mandela at ICASA

The first of Nelson Mandela’s memorial services was held yesterday in Johannesburg with more than 100 heads of state and dignitaries and tens of thousands of South Africans in FNB Stadium. I saw it much like the rest of the world – from the TV – since I am in Cape Town for the International Conference for AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA), conference where more than 5,000 people from all over the world come to discuss the latest developments in the field of HIV and AIDS. But, mostly, ICASA is a conference for people to get together, to meet old friends and make new ones, to advocate for a particular cause that you are passionate about and have people in the audience support you, to protest injustices that are happening throughout the world, and, most of all, to be together in solidarity for the fight against this debilitating, deadly disease.

Photo credit: NMF Photo/Matthew Willman

Photo credit: NMF Photo/Matthew Willman

This has also been a week of remembering the father of South Africa and probably the greatest statesman that I will see in my lifetime. To share stories of how Madiba touched our lives, how his sacrifice and then his tolerance and forgiveness really did heal a nation. And for me personally how his foresight to call for reconciliation, forgiveness, and a peaceful transition has led to me living in South Africa. I probably would not have decided to work in South Africa if apartheid had continued or if a bloody civil war had taken place. He and so many others involved in the struggle have made it possible for me to meet my partner – who is South African/Indian from Durban. During apartheid it would have been illegal for us, as a mixed race couple, to be together.

All of the flags are at half-mast and there are flowers laying at each small statue of Nelson Mandela or on the streets that are named after him – or where people have memories of meeting or seeing Madiba.

As we begin the process of saying goodbye to this tremendous leader I hope that we can all remember what he stood for and asked of all of us.

Kathryn Reichert is the Associate Project Director and Director of Monitoring, Evaluation and Communications of MSH’s Building Local Capacity for HIV Delivery Services in Southern Africa Project in South Africa