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Adieu Madiba, always my hero

- South African in Shillong pays tribute

Shillong, Dec. 6: When Helen Dineo Suping left Johannesburg to participate in the eighth International Shillong Shopping Carnival, 2013, little did she know that the man she salutes for emancipating South Africa from the shackles of apartheid would breathe his last while she was here.

Suping, 34, who grew up hearing stories of apartheid from her parents, could not hold back tears this morning when news broke out that Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was no more.

As a tribute to the leader, whom she described as a man with a “forgiving heart”, she put up Mandela’s photo at her jewellery stall at Madan Iewrynghep, Laitumkhrah. She reverentially placed a flower before it and lit a candle. Asked about her views on apartheid in South Africa, Suping, who was born in May 1979 and hails from Rosebank in Johannesburg, said she “hated” the term.

“People used to get killed because of the colour of their skin. The blacks had to carry identity cards and there were streets marked separately for the whites and the blacks. I hate to hear such stories from my parents, who had suffered a lot,” she recounted.

“It was not easy for us before Mandela fought for us. He really fought for us. We are now enjoying the fruits of his fight,” she added.

Talking about her schooldays, she said she was “lucky” as Mandela had come on to the scene after his “long walk to freedom” by then. “But my elder siblings did suffer,” she added.

Recollecting the moment she saw Mandela, Suping said, “In 2007, he was invited to inaugurate the Rosebank African Craft Market in Johannesburg. It was the first time that I saw him in person. It was a great moment for me to see a father who fought for us.”

On what she liked most about Madiba, the name by which Mandela is known, given by the Xhosa tribe to which he belonged, she said, “He had a kind heart, a forgiving heart. He had stayed in prison for 27 years. Had it been someone else, he would not have allowed the whites to stay in South Africa anymore.”

Asked if Mandela’s demise would mean that South Africa could go back to the days of apartheid, she said, “We pray for peace and we will put everything in God’s hands.”

On her first reaction to the news that the former South African president was no more, she said, “I cried because I felt I had lost someone who was very close to me. But we have to move on for the better. We cannot hold back.”

Far away from home, Suping could not help but miss her loved ones back in Johannesburg, especially on this day of grief. “Mandela’s body might be dead, but his spirit will live on. The spirit does not die. Mandela is going to remain a hero for us even if he’s gone,” she said.