This is not the end of but just the beginning. Preparing to leave South Africa was about a three-month process. Three months to settle and three months of preparation to leave, but not forget the people, community and environment that I have grown to love. Traveling to South Africa had always been a dream of mine as a young girl; I had this major obsession with Nelson Mandela. I think my obsession mainly drove from the fact that all my other inspirational leaders had passed yet Mandela was still alive and living his legacy vividly for us to watch and learn. It was of privilege to see, hear and follow his transition yet still learning impeccably from him.
I grew up knowing that I was African first and then Sudanese. I am first a product of the continent, a descendent of Nubia and a child of Bilad-Al Sudan. I am Emanuella Dobijoki Nicola Khalifa Bringi Uweri Baokute. I know exactly where I come from and know who I am; this is something that can never be taken away from me. I confidently hold my values close to my heart as it is represented in all that I do and practice. Regardless of how proud and confident I may feel now, this would not have been a possibility if I did not actively seek to learn and love myself, my culture and history. Those who know me personally or even on a blurred scale will recognize me as an African, Sudanese woman.
While in South Africa, there were certain places I had to go and places I had to see and feel in order to know that I took full advantage of the opportunity to reconnect with my people, and to find the space to reflect and experience the battle that my elders and ancestors encountered in order for us to live decently. I was not going to leave South Africa without touching foot on Robben Isalnd. I remember writing about Robben Island in the seventh grade and saying that one day I will not only meet Nelson Mandela, but I will be on his soil. Unfortunately meeting Mandela did not happen, RIP; but Robben Island did. I landed Wednesday, Thursday morning I woke up anxiously knowing that it was the day for me to live that dream I had always wished for. I took the city bus in busy Cape Town, it took me about an hour to get to the loading dock and catch the ferry to the island. It was a dull excitement I was feeling if that even makes sense. In my mind I knew that this was a big deal, yet reflecting to myself about the struggle of my people had me quiet. The ferry ride was horrible, I think I got seasick; I had to tightly hold my eye shut for 30 minutes until we got to the island.
As I got off the boat I did not see a major difference in setting, you can still tell it’s a tourist attraction because of the numbers of people running around and the shops that are in front of you. There was someone who then directed those who just arrived to a bunch of buses; these buses were going to drive the visitors around the island. I attended by myself by the way; this was something that required me to be in my own space. As we were being driven, I realized that people were hopping from one side of the bus to the other taking their perfect photos, yet I was seated peacefully glancing out the window and ultimately picturing what the reality would have been for these prisoners. At times I felt like I could only hear the tour guides description and feel the bumpy bus; I was dazed staring at nothing yet thinking about everything. I was thinking of what it meant for my people to have struggled as they did and I thought about the struggle that us Africans still face directly and indirectly every moment of our lives; I more specifically thought about the bravery of my people, the passion and pride they carry to not let things just be as is, but rather be just and equitable.
After the bus ride we were met by an ex-prisoner who gave us a detailed tour of the prison. There were times where I felt emotions constantly running under the surface of my skin; to hear the stories and descriptions in first person was even more remarkable and intensifying. We were shown the cells of prisoners, the food menu that was significantly of lesser value for a “Bantu” prisoner; we were shown Mandela’s garden, which has a history of its own, and lastly we had the privilege of seeing the cell of Mandela. Unlike the other cells you could not enter the cell of Mandela, it is ultimately a sacred space that must be respected. It was not until that moment, after five months of being in the country that I felt that I have successfully been in South Africa. I took a photo in front of Mandela’s cell and like others I was confused as to whether I should smile or not, it was joyful as it was the closest I would get to meeting Mandela, yet highly painful at the same time.
When I went to Johannesburg for the second time during my six-month stay I got the chance to visit the infamous Soweto. I saw Mandela’s house on Vilakazi st and passed by the homes of Desmond TuTu and Winnie Mandela, who actually still reside in and own those homes. It was the best opening closure to the journey I began when coming to South Africa. I say opening because it is just the beginning of my legacy that I will leave, but closure as this was needed for me to be at peace with that portion of my identity.
In 2013 I took part in the Miss AfriCanada Heritage Pageant. This pageant was not about physical beauty, this pageant was unlike others as it was focused on the knowledge of self as African women and your ability to project and embrace that in the most affective way. I represented South Sudan and did extremely well for myself and my community. I earned the title of 1st Runner Up (second place). Initially my reaction was to be okay and know that I tried my hardest because I earned awards that reflected my personality and efficiency in my participation. I earned the awards of Best Traditional and Most Dedicated. This then made me feel at ease; but there was still something that I was never able to get over and that is how I answered my final question. I was doing so well until the final question when my nerves kicked in and I did not give an answer that made me proud. The final question was along the lines of: knowing what Nelson Mandela has accomplished in his lifetime what does his legacy mean to you?
Now, after three years of growth and experience this is how I would answer:
Nelson Mandela is known to be a Freedom Fighter; to me he is the epitome of what it means to be a just, loving and civil human being. Many people want to be remembered when they pass on, Mandela is not one to be remembered only at passing rather he is one to acknowledge and respect the existence of every day as he paved mountains alongside others for the lives of Africans and minorities. Nelson Mandela may have been laid to rest but his existence is represented through his legacy; and that, will surely never die.
Mandela, this is the name of my older brother. Mandela Ukele Nicola Bringi, the name was not just given by fluke, it was given through honour. Though I never got the chance to meet Nelson Mandela personally. I have been blessed to have Mandela as a name a call every day. Now this, is a legacy.