Editor’s note: The Art21 Magazine is pleased to introduce British/Mexican artist Alinka Echeverría as our Translation Issue writer-in-residence. In this first post, Echeverría presents never-before-seen photographs from her recent visit to South Africa. The following text was adapted from an entry in her diary dated December 15, 2013—the day of Nelson Mandela’s burial.
On the tenth day of mourning for South Africans, I rose to first light in Nelson Mandela’s childhood village of Qunu. On this day, Mandela would be laid to rest in his ancestral grave. Although the atmosphere was quiet and solemn and the grief palpable, as I talked with and photographed villagers, and members of the South African Defence Force, I encountered a consistent sentiment of immense and often overwhelming gratitude for their beloved leader. He had given them back their life and country.
“It’s not about a man. It stopped being about a man a long time ago.”
“It is about his ideals…his legacy.”
“He was still someone’s father.”
“He was everyone’s Tata.”
Mandela was the heart that pumped the struggle of millions, and kept beating from the cell and limestone quarry of Robben Island for twenty-seven years. Madiba’s heart loved so much that he reconciled with his own anger and pain in order to reconcile with his oppressors, and bring peace and rights to the people who sang “My President” long before his release from prison.
Along with the gratitude that people expressed for Mandela, there was also a deep sadness in the knowledge that South Africa will not see a man quite like him again, despite how much she yearns for him.