A few years ago, 2002 to be precise, I made a journey into family history with my mother.
We were looking into the history of the family on my maternal grandmother’s line. My grandmother was South African, of mixed race, and was born in the Transkei area, south-east Africa.
In the early part of the 20th Century, my grandmother arrived at Swansea on a ship with her elder sister. She was looked after by relatives, so we understand, and went to boarding school.
Her father and mother were due to join them having sailed on another ship. The family had farmed in an area called Mquanduli in the Transkei. When this area was declared a black area under the apartheid regime, my great-grandfather had to abandon his farm. He chose to head back to the country of his birth, the UK.
My great grandfather had married a local woman, a member of the Xhosa tribe. The Xhosa are a large tribe, and, unlike the Zulu, they were never vanquished by European immigrants. My great-grandmother was called Lizzie.
From what we were able to discover, it seems that after packing up their effects, my great grandparents travelled to Cape Town and boarded a ship bound for Bristol. They never arrived. The ship was lost at sea.
My mother and I travelled to South Africa to find out what we could about the family and to see the farm and village that they came from. We were helped in this venture by a vicar from the church in Mquanduli. We saw the marriage certificate and the farm, but we were unable to go into the farm as it was occupied by armed squatters.
It was whilst having tea with the vicar that the revelation was made about who my mother’s cousin is. None other than Mr Nelson Mandela. We learned that Mr Mandela is also Xhosa and was tribal family to Lizzie. Not surprisingly, my mother and I were very humbled.
Since then, my mum has written to the great man several times. She always received a response, normally through his personal staff, and, despite his commitments and responsiblities, he has been kind enough to pass on his best wishes to her.
So, as he lies gravely ill in a hospital bed my mum had been rather subdued of late. No doubt, we will soon mourn the passing of such a great man.
The fact that I can call him family is an honour.