During the 2013 visit to South Africa by the former US president, Barrack Obama, audiences were charmed by the broadly grinning, Mikhail Hendricks. More popularly known as ‘The Guy in the Red Tie”, Mikhail had said at the time that he wanted to study law so that he can help to bring positive change to South Africa. On Friday, it was announced that the larger than life final year law student, Mikhail, had died.
After being filmed standing behind President Obama during his 2013 speech, BBC News had first called about the “Guy in the Red Tie” and soon he was inundated with interviews. He had been invited to attend the speech after entering a poem for the USA’s Black History Month Competition. After receiving the invite, he excitedly went out to buy a new outfit and he chose a red tie because “those are the colour ties that President Obama usually wears”. This was not the first time he had met an Obama. He had met and chatted to Michelle Obama in 2011.
Born and raised in Mitchells Plain, Mikhail’s humble beginnings further highlight what made him such a special beacon of hope that mesmerized the world. Like President Obama, for most of his young life he had not known his father and he was raised by his grandmother. He was a bright and hardworking student in school and as a result, he was accepted into the prestigious high school, the Cape Academy for Maths, Science and Technology. After completing Matric in 2013, he went on to study constitutional law at the University of Stellenbosch and this was his final year before he graduated.
He is also the recipient of the Amicus Bursary, which is funded by former law students.
Mikhail is described by his friends as a genuine and positive person. He had a passion for constitutional law and strongly believed that young people should know their rights in order to bring about equality. He had also wanted to be involved in developing communities like his own.
What makes this development especially poignant for CK is the fact that we had intended to write up a story about Mikhail 3 weeks from now. In general, CK posts stories about members of our communities that we can look up to. It is especially important for our kids to have role models that they can identify with. During the years of apartheid, we were made to feel less, and that feeling of being less is still pervasive in our communities. It is people like Mikhail that makes us realise that we are not less. He proves to us that we are more.
People like Mikhail are the real soldiers, the people that stand tall and make us want to stand tall. These are the soldiers that reminds us that the colour of our skin, the shape our nose, the texture of our hair, the colour of our eyes, does not determine what we are capable of. For our community, this loss is a tragedy that words cannot express. We need people like Mikhail to remind us that we are more.
Rest in Peace, Mikhail Hendricks. Your memory will live on in the kid that sees him or herself in you, the kid that you have inspired to become a soldier of positive change. You will not be forgotten.