Faculty voice:

CJ Iheka: Watching, waiting in South Africa

July 11, 2013

Cajetan "CJ" Iheka is a doctoral student in the Department of English and the Nelson Mandela Museum/MSU Museum Graduate Curatorial Fellow at the Nelson Mandela Museum in Eastern Cape, South Africa.

I'm completing my sixth week as the Nelson Mandela Museum/MSU Museum Graduate Curatorial Fellow in South Africa as I write this piece, less than 100 meters away from the remains of the school attended by former President Nelson Mandela – the same place his teacher named him "Nelson" on his first day of school.

Since I’ve been here, I’ve participated in several museum activities, including facilitating the Winter School Youth Camp June 24-29. I also participated in a policy workshop that brought together the entire museum staff, management and members of the governing council.

And I’ll never forget my visit to Mandela’s birthplace in Mvezo, where I was shown around by his daughter-in-law. That place has a soul-inspiring feeling that will stay with me forever.

All my experiences have been professionally stimulating and exciting. But shadowing these activities in Qunu, South Africa – Mandela’s birthplace – is his deteriorating health condition. Mandela has been hospitalized since June 8, and the latest report from the South African government indicates he remains in a critical but stable condition.

The mood here is tense with mixed emotions from people. While some believe the icon has done his bit and deserves rest, others are anxious for a post-Mandela South Africa and hope the revered leader survives this latest lung infection.

Regardless of what happens, I remain touched by the outpouring of love and affection for Mandela from within and outside South Africa. For example, the Nelson Mandela Museum is experiencing increased traffic from tourists and media crews from across the world. At the writing workshop I held, people were hopeful for the future and grateful to Mandela for the legacies he’s created.

In fact, one remarkable girl at a youth camp told me she’ll become the first female president of South Africa and when she does, she’ll hire me. Her big dream rings in me every day. It gladdens my heart, as well, because it suggests Mandela’s legacy of service has a future.

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