We Salute You Graca

There is a sense of sadness and celebration, as well as love and admiration across the country and thePhoto: Phill Magakoeworld.  It is in all the people who gather daily at the hospital where Nelson Mandela remains under the care of doctors for three weeks now.
For many South Africans, it is a time to connect with the inspirational legacy of the man who dedicated his
life to the service of humanity. The flowers, the messages of love, the singing in front of the hospital and
at schools and churches across the country has an air, not of adieu, but of hope, hope that our beloved
Madiba will return home to his loved ones, and be the living inspiration that his life continues to be to all of

Despite the sense of hope, a cloud of sadness and pain hangs over the nation every time we hear the
words “critical but stable” repeated. That sadness and pain, so deep words cannot describe, was
captured in the front page picture of the face of Graça Machel in Friday’s Cape Times.
Graça Machel, our first lady of grace; a true embodiment of what her name means – gracious. Her love
for our dear Madiba has been visible for all to see. Who can forget the indelible images of their love for
each other whenever they appeared in public? Graça Machel leaning forward at a dinner to plant a soft
kiss on Mandela’s lips, Madiba’s face lighting up, happily obliging while placing his hand on Machel’s
shoulder. Watching them in public, engaging with others around them, but always in this dialogue of love
and mutual admiration with each other, was heart-warming.

And when Madiba needed physical support and could not walk unaided, Machel was respectful, never flaunting her role as his source of physical support. Ever so gentle and gracious – a touch here, a loving look there, a hand of support or loving embrace. No other memory of Machel’s unmistakable love for our dear Madiba stands out as vividly as his last public appearance before the start of the 2010 World Cup. Both of them impeccably dressed for the cold June evening, Machel and Madiba engaging with the crowds, their love so alive, so visible in every subtle gesture of touch between them, made more visible in the distance by Machel’s various gestures of touch with her immaculately manicured hands. We rarely see, or think of, our older icons in the context of a romantic love relationship. Machel has shared with our dear Madiba a special gift of love; she continues to give him the dignity of quality care that he would not have had without her. The front page photograph in the Cape Times on Friday captures most poignantly the face of the woman who continues to imbue our Madiba’s life with quiet grace. The sorrow written on her face should strengthen our determination that the ideals which her man bestowed on our country, and the cause which he led with such moral force, will continue to live in all of us. It was fitting that Machel’s photograph in this newspaper carried no “story”; the picture spoke a thousand words. For me, her face will forever stand as the most appropriate memorial of this period of uncertainty about the health of Madiba. Amid all the “noise”, her silence, her easy grace and rare words in public, convey to us the living power of the soul and spirit of the great South African whose breath in that Pretoria hospital stands as a symbol of hope in the face of fear, fear of the chaos and the crisis of moral leadership in our country. As Graça Machel, Madiba’s children and his extended family face these next few days, the nation collectively shares their pain. Madiba fought with courage the fight that made him strong. His heroic example is a call to action for all of us. Let us then, trusting as he did in the optimism of life, keep our heads pointed towards the sun, and our feet moving forward. And to Graça, our first lady of grace, we salute you. * Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela is a senior research professor at the University of the Free State.

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