Gaba singing to Mandela
A song for Mandela

"Thank you for your magic...," sang Gabatshwane, then 11 years old, in her song to Nelson Mandela.

Gabatshwane lost her parents to AIDS and wrote a song to thank Nelson Mandela for all he had done for the children of South Africa, for her freedom, for the chance to go to school and for his respect for children's rights. But she thanked him particularly for the help he had given to her and other children who've lost their parents to AIDS or who have AIDS themselves.

Left by themselves

Gabatshwane and her siblings had to manage by themselves in the small family house in the village of Letabong in northwestern South Africa.
   "I used to look up at the sky and ask mum to come back home. I got very upset when she didn't answer. Finally I understood that she was still around but couldn't talk to me in the usual way," said Gabatshwane.

Gaba helping out

When Gabatshwane was little she used to help the poor people of the village and orphaned school friends. She bought food for them with the money she earns with her band.

Villagers afraid

After the deaths of her parents, many of the villagers were afraid that Gabatshwane, too, was ill and thought that they could be infected by her. But a test showed that she didn't have AIDS. Even so, Gabatshwane remained without friends. When she was little she fell into a tub of boiling water and was burnt on her right arm and leg.
   "Everybody at school laughed at me and I was always alone," she said.

When the other children were out playing, she stayed at home and listened to the radio. Soon she knew the words to all the popular songs, and one day her brother heard how well she could sing.

Gaba with her band

Gabatshwane performing with her badn when she was 11.

A hug from Mandela

Gabatshwane’s big brother formed a band and made her the singer. The first song she wrote was about Nelson Mandela.
   "I wanted to thank him for everything he's done for our country. Life was terrible in South Africa during apartheid, and people died full of rage in their hearts," she said.

Gaba

Later, Gabatshwane became a member of the WCP Child Jury, and both sang and spoke up for child rights.

Big hug

When Nelson Mandela heard about Gabatshwane he invited her to sing at a concert in Cape Town. He really liked the song about him and he thanked her with a big hug.
   "I wish that I could wake up one morning with a heart as good as Nelson Mandela's," said Gabatshwane. She later became a member of the World’s Children’s Prize Child Jury, where she sang and spoke up for the rights of every child.

"When my mum died I felt like I was all alone in the world. Nobody should have to go through that," she says.

Text: Annika Forsberg Langa
Photo: Victor Matom, Evan Haussman/NMCP och AP

 
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