THE BLOG
16/12/2013 08:10 GMT | Updated 14/02/2014 05:59 GMT

What Does It Mean to Be South African?

It means biltong and boerewors braais, table mountain and tin-roofed townships, fears and forgiveness.

It means when I was born, in the mid- 1980's into a country ravaged by states of emergency, unrest and uprising- I was a child born into uncertainty and chaos. Unknown to those at the time, it was the tail-end of Apartheid.

It means that my freedom is not to be taken for granted- it is a freedom fought for by many, not least by Nelson Mandela, the founding father of our democratic nation, who was laid to rest today.

It means my family had the right to move to a residential area previously reserved for whites on the slopes of table mountain overlooking table bay harbour in January 1993, the cusp of democracy. It means I changed schools to a previously whites-only school known for its excellent education that year.

It means in 1994 I recall a flurry of activity, Mandela was a national hero. I didn't fully understand his sacrifice then- but I knew he was special. As a nine-year-old I accompanied my parents to cast their first vote in our first democratic elections.

It means hosting the Rugby World Cup in 1995. Walking through Newlands with my dad, sister and brother- free. PJ Powers singing The World in Union, a song which still gives me goose bumps.

It means singing our national anthem Nkosi Sikeleli i'Afrika (God Bless Africa) in its five languages and feeling the pride pounding from my heart.

It means loving cricket. Painting posters supporting our boys in green (the South African national cricket team) happened frequently.

It means matriculating and not being able to decide what to study- the options were endless. It means I didn't have to become a nurse like my mom, or a teacher like my aunt- the only options they had as Indian women in the 70's.

It means I could choose.

It means being accepted to the University of Cape Town- where my dad was in 1982 the only non-white out of 18 students in his Honors accounting class.

It means graduating from UCT in 2005 and moving to Joburg to attend WITS and study International Relations- by choice.

It means being accepted for a human rights internship in Geneva when I was 21, and my family being able to support me. It means my parents accompanying me, their first trip to mainland Europe- and to be surrounded by the white-capped Swiss Alps and the pristine Lake Geneva.

It means finding the multi-coloured South African flag hoisted outside the UN Palais des Nations in Geneva and feeling excited that it was there!

It means celebrating Freedom Day with the South African consulate in Geneva and missing home on our national day, 27 April.

It means hanging a huge South African flag over my apartment window in Geneva during the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

It means my beaded South African flag pinned to my worn denim jacket means much more to me than my friend knows (we swopped flags- I got her Trinidad and Tobago flag, she got mine).

It means after completing my postgraduate degree in Switzerland I wanted to come home, to live and work here- to be connected to people and to contribute to my country.

It means coming home and realising that despite the enormous challenges we have in a country plagued by inequality- there is still hope.

Despite the poverty, unemployment, lack of quality education, healthcare and housing for all, even despite the Secrecy Bill and Nkandla, it means knowing there are people dedicated to fighting for transparency, integrity, equality of sexes, access to quality education and healthcare and promoting safety in communities.

It means living in a country with a vibrant civil society, a constitution hailed the most progressive in the world and people who have the courage to stand up against injustice, committed to investing their time and energy into campaigns and causes, because they care- and because they can.

It means since I heard the news from my sister last Friday, "did you know, Mandela died?" it feels like time and space cease to exist. It means I went to the Grand Parade that evening to attend an Interfaith Prayer Service- organised by the late Father John Oliver- where diverse religious leaders prayed for Mandela.

It means knowing the world will never be the same again.

What will happen to South Africa, without Mandela? This is the daunting white elephant in the country, continent and even around the world.

I don't think anything drastic will happen. South Africa will continue on the trajectory it has, for the past few years. Next year we celebrate 20 years since Nelson Mandela brought us democracy. It is my hope that, following our tata's death, even more South Africans will be inspired by Mandela's life to struggle and stand up for equality and social justice for all.

South Africa has a new struggle, but history shows it is possible to overcome. Nelson Mandela taught us that we must have hope, and it is his spirit that will forever be a guiding light.