The widow of Mau Mau freedom fighter Dedan Kimathi, Mukami, said her only encounter with Nelson Mandela was so momentous that it will remain etched in her mind.
“It was in 2005 or 2006 at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport when I met Mandela. On being introduced as the wife of Dedan Kimathi, he sighed and looked at me unbelievably. He stood up and hugged me with a lot of affection and quickly introduced me to his wife (Graca Machel),” said Mrs Kimathi during an interview with the Nation at her Njabi-ini home in Nyandarua County at the weekend.
She further recalled Mr Mandela promising to visit her at her rural home to meet her family.
However, this was not to be as Mr Mandela had to cut short his visit to Kenya after his wife developed a fever.
Mrs Kimathi said She had not even been invited to the airport to welcome the former South African president.
“I had only heard in the news that Mandela was visiting Kenya and I had to struggle to meet him since he had all along expressed desire to meet Kimathi’s family,” said Mrs Kimathi, who was also a freedom fighter.
In 1990, Mr Mandela visited Kenya soon after he was released from detention.
He came in the company of Winnie, his wife at the time. While the two were addressing students at the University of Nairobi’s main campus, Mr Mandela requested the government to assist him in visiting the Kimathi family.
He said he had a lot of respect for Kimathi, whose role in Kenya’s freedom struggle inspired him to continue fighting the apartheid regime in his own country.
But his wish to visit the Kimathi family could not be fulfilled at the time.
And the only reason was that the family of the country’s freedom hero had been forgotten. They lived in abject poverty, which turned out to be a disgrace to the government.
A group of MPs led by then Dagoretti MP Clement Gachanja visited the family and found out that they were living in an old house built in 1922 by a European settler.
The house was dilapidated and had a leaking roof.
The home was in a remote place that could not easily be accessed since the road network was poor.
So Mr Mandela had to leave Kenya without setting his eyes on the family of his role model.
It was from that time that the government and well-wishers started focusing on the Kimathi family, addressing their plight.
Mrs Kimathi admitted that the country’s founding president, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, used to visit her and her family at the same place.
Retired President Daniel arap Moi has all along been a friend of the Kimathi family, she added.