Like millions of South Africans, my own story is deeply tied to that of Nelson Mandela. It begins with my father. Inspired by Nelson Mandela, he joins the African National Congress. In 1961, my father slips out of the country and begins his life in exile. He travels to Russia and does military training. He travels around Africa doing revolutionary things. He thinks he will be gone for only a year. He never says goodbye to anyone because those are the instructions. He is 21 when he leaves—and he is gone 30 years. He is 51 when he finally touches South African soil again.
During those 30 years, he was busy. He met a woman in Lusaka in the 1970s and they had three girls. I am the eldest of those children. I grew up in many different countries, part of the ANC community in exile. We sang freedom songs about Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Govan Mbeki and all those who were fighting bravely for our freedom. I owe my sense of self-belief to that community, to the adults I grew up with who taught me that I was as good as anyone in the world.
I was 17 when Mandela was released. It was like a dream come true. My family—like many others—was able to return because of the changes that began to happen in the early 1990s. Other than my parents no one did more to determine my destiny and shape my life, than Nelson Mandela.