I have quite a soft spot for South Africa. It helps that we spent some time there, of course, and we have lots of very fond memories of the places we visited, but it goes beyond that – it is one of those countries where I can imagine living.
This may sound like wishful think, and it probably is, and yet only this week we were looking online for houses in Montagu, the quiet town in the mountains of the Western Cape that we fell in love with, even though we were there for just a couple of days.
The idea that we might retire there one day is a dream, but the fact that we are able to dream that dream is down to one man – Nelson Mandela. Without him it might have been a nightmare.
South Africa is a vibrant country, full of energy and smiles, and yet it could have all be so very different had Mandela emerged from prison full of hate and vengeance. We might have witnessed a bloodbath, but instead he had the strength to both forgive his persecutors and to persuade his countrymen that a different version of the future was possible.
This is a remarkable achievement, especially if you have visited Robben Island and seen the cells above and the quarry where Mandela and his fellow prisoners broke rocks into smaller and smaller pieces to no purposes other than to punish them for wanting to be treated as equals.
And what has stayed with me from our time there was the way that the older former inmates who act as guides refer to him respectfully as Mr Mandela, while the younger people familiarly use his first name. It just didn’t seem right.
There are too few truly great men in the world today, and certainly one less this morning.