What does Nelson Mandela mean to us?

As the anti-apartheid leader receives medical treatment in Pretoria, South Africans reflect on his legacy.

Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela has been receiving medical treatment at Pretoria Military Hospital [AFP]

Nelson Mandela is a world-renowned figure, with a uniquely charismatic personality, enabling him not only to be “the people’s” leader in South Africa, but also an international figurehead.

Now 94 years old, Mandela is in poor health and has been receiving medical treatment at a military hospital in Pretoria. The former South African president has for some time excused himself from public life, but he remains a hero in the minds of many who enjoy the fruits of the anti-apartheid struggle.

Al Jazeera’s Safeeyah Kharsany spoke to people on the streets of the cosmopolitan business district of Fordsburg, in Johannesburg, and asked:“What does Nelson Mandela mean to you?”

Ebrahim Ntsaba


“Nelson Mandela is like a hero to me, an ambassador to me,” he said. Ebrahim is a 25-year-old security guard from South Africa’s Free State.

“You know, he [did] a lot for us. He [fought] for us, for the country. So that is why I say he is an ambassador to me, he’s a hero to me.”




Lindy Thomas


“When I think of Nelson Mandela, to me it’s like he was the man that brought peace in the country,” said the 29-year-old administrator originally from Cape Town. 



Abednigo Yika


“A lot, a lot. He means a lot to me,” he said.Abednigo is a 59-year-old security guard from Soweto.

“He’s done many, many things for us. Everything, like freedom, houses. Everything.”


Thuli Moleleki


“I’ve never really actually thought about it but now that you’re asking, I’d say, quite a few things – but mostly he means freedom and opportunities,” said the 29-year-old.Thuli is a doctor’s receptionist from Soweto.

“When I was growing up, we never got to experience apartheid in that harsh way. And when we got the chance to know about him it was during a time when we were old enough to be making our own choices.

“So it just meant more exposure to things that I think, when I was younger we wouldn’t have been exposed to. So, freedom and opportunities.”

Rasheed Wadee


“I think he means the world to all of us in South Africa.Rasheed is from the Johannesburg suburb of Mayfair West.

He’s brought a lot of changes,” said the 56-year-old flea market salesman.

“He’s given up his life for others.

“I mean, he spent so much time in prison. And he came out and he brought about the changes with a lot of other people but he was the instrument in this whole thing.”


Ebrahim Mthombe


“He’s like a father to me,” he said.Ebrahim is a 24-year-old from Botswana, and, like Rasheed, a flea market salesman.

“In most acting and drama [lessons] at school like Sarafina, he used to be my passion person. And it was like my hobby to me.

“‘Tata Madiba’, he’s like a big person.

“I love him more than anything in this world.” 


Polite Nkomazana


“It means a lot. He’s a good man,” said the 23-year-old.Polite is a shoe salesman in Johannesburg, who was born in South Africa’s northern neighbour, Zimbabwe.

“He made freedom in South Africa.”


Mthokozisi Gasela


“Mr Nelson Mandela means a lot,” said the 22-year-old.Mthokozisi is a security guard, also from Zimbabwe.

“He means everything to me because we are free in Zimbabwe just because of him, because he created freedom.”



Altaf Hussian


“Nelson Mandela is good person because he is founder of this nation.”Altaf is a 41-year-old trader, originally from Pakistan. 


Waleed Abdul Elmegid


“I have to respect this man because he tried and he [did] a lot for South Africa [so that there would be] no apartheid in South Africa,” said the 42-year-old.Waleed is a businessman from Egypt.

“For South Africa [to be] free for everybody living in South Africa.” 


Victor Dube


“He is the man who changed everything in the country – that there must be unity among blacks and whites and Indians and so on,” said the 32-year-old.Victor is a security guard, originally from Bulawayo in Zimbabwe.

“He means that now there is unity between South Africans and Zimbabweans; black and white.

“He means democracy.” 


Sangeeta Khoosal, manager, South Africa, 31


“To me he is a great role model. I see him as another great role model like Mahatma Gandhi – who is a great role model for a lot of us. A great freedom fighter as well, he was. And to me, he meant a lot,” said the South African.Sangeeta is a 31-year-old manager.

“Today, a lot of people don’t even follow all these things.

“Some people when you ask them, they don’t even know him. But he’s a great person to look upon. Nelson Mandela is a freedom fighter as well. He keeps to his words.

“All I can say for him is I hope he has a healthy, long life.”

Lucy Fose


“Nelson Mandela? He’s like my grandfather to me. Because I appreciate whatever he [did] when he came [out] from prison,” said the 59-year-old.Lucy is a general assistant, also from South Africa.

“May he live long, so that my grandchildren and my children can learn more things about him.”



Photographs and video by Safeeyah Kharsany. Follow her on Twitter @safeeyah 

Source: Al Jazeera