Thinking back: 'The townships were like a warzone' says Reverend Musa Daba. *File photo by Kageaki Smith
Thinking back: 'The townships were like a warzone' says Reverend Musa Daba. *File photo by Kageaki Smith

Nelson Mandela was not only an icon in the struggle against Apartheid but also inspired love and forgiveness among victims of the brutal racist regime. 

Reverend Musa Daba, minister of St Mark’s Anglican Church in Smith’s, personally experienced the horrors of Apartheid as a child growing up in South Africa.

His late father was routinely imprisoned and tortured, and he himself was electrocuted once by South African Defence Force soldiers.

But through his Christian faith and the words of Nelson Mandela he learned forgiveness.

Rev Musa was born in Port Elizabeth on the Eastern Cape in 1973, one of four children to Elizabeth, a nurse, and Samson Daba, an Anglican priest who was also a political activist.

“I grew up in a horrible time,” said Revd Musa.

We grew up angry

“The townships were like a war zone. We had these huge ‘caspers’ — huge military vehicles — in the street. And we grew up very angry as young people. 

“In those days in the townships, the utility vehicles were also escorted by the South African Defence Force or the police.

“One day my brother and I were walking home from school. A utility van was across our road and about four soldiers were around the van. They called me over and told me they wanted to test the phone line to see if it was fixed. 

“They put some headphones on my head and placed jump leads in my hands, and then they electrocuted me.

“That just cemented a lot of anger in my heart. I can picture them now, laughing and having a giggle at that. That was how I grew up.

“I was 19 when I learned to forgive. I found that through my Christian faith, my heart softened.

“But the release of Nelson Mandela (in 1990) and his attitude towards white people — this all had an influence.

“A number of things Nelson Mandela did and said have really made a lot of sense to me, but there is one quote in particular: ‘If there are dreams about a beautiful South Africa, there are also roads that lead to that goal. Two of those roads could be named ‘goodness’ and ‘forgiveness’.’

“Nelson Mandela spoke that. He didn’t just exemplify it by his life; he spoke it by his words.

Inspiring speech

“That speech spoke volumes to me, and is really what has shaped me — the whole idea of forgiveness and seeing white people as human beings, fallen sinful human beings, as I am myself. That’s how I thought of my journey to where I am. Some of my best friends now are white South Africans.”

During his childhood, whenever his father was taken away by the authorities, Revd Musa and his siblings never knew if they would see him alive again.

“My father was very outspoken and passionate about the Apartheid in our country, and the repression of black people in South Africa,” he said.

“As a family, we suffered greatly. My father was arrested more times than I can remember and during the 1980’s, was in and out of prison.  The South African police would detain people without charge, just when they felt like it.
“Some people were literally disappearing and their charred bodies were found all over the place. 

 “In either 1986 or 1987 I vividly remember one night when the police and South African Defence Force came to get my father. We were sleeping in the church rectory and at two o’clock in the morning our door was kicked down and they dragged my father outside.

“They dragged him out onto the lawn and beat the living daylights out of him, in front of us. I remember my mother screaming at them. There were more than 10 of them, and they then took him away.

“We didn’t see him for several months and we didn’t know where he was during that time. I was 12 or 13 at the time. Other times it would be a few weeks or months. They would release him and then just pick him up again.

“We left the Eastern Cape when he came out of prison in late 1987, the last big stint.  Desmond Tutu, the Archbishop of Cape Town, told him to come to the diocese of Cape Town.

“My father had a close relationship with Desmond Tutu, as his bishop. He has a huge heart.”

Mandela was role model

In Cape Town, his father acted as a chaplain to returning exiles in the early 1990s, helping to repatriate them. 

Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and became the first black president of South Africa in the 1994 general election, in which blacks were allowed to vote for the first time.

Reflecting on the breadth of his influence, Revd Musa said: “My father’s generation as a whole were very inspired by Nelson Mandela. That’s one of the reasons why many took up arms, not only to see him released but the many other political prisoners, because Nelson Mandela was not alone at Robben Island.

“He was a leader to many and is an elder of the nation. He will be greatly mourned. 

“Even here in Bermuda, many people see him as a role model for black Bermudians, and for the reconciliation of black and white.

“It is also facing up to what happened in the past and leaving the past behind.”