Take a poll asking which four people you would invite for dinner if you could pick anyone and I bet Nelson Mandela’s name comes up more often than not. Why? Why is it in the fight to end apartheid – out of all the people that were part of that struggle – that this one man should be so revered.
South Africa is a magical country. There is a feeling you get when you land on her soil – the only way I can explain it is that there is a god like presence. Rich in natural beauty and resources, blessed with a warm climate and diverse cultures – she has a dark, complex history. I digress a little because I believe unless you are South African or have spent significant time there you can never truly appreciate what it is about this land, that has lead to people being prepared to die for it. I would recommend reading The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay, Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton and Disgrace by J M Coetzee to help capture some of the essence of what I mean.
There are many heroes of the anti-apartheid movement – Steve Biko was one of mine when I was growing up. It was in learning about his life and then his subsequent death in police custody that sparked my interest in wanting to know more about apartheid South Africa and it was then I learnt of this person called Nelson Mandela. Well that is not quite true I knew of this person back in 1984 when the song ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ by the Specials A.K.A. was released but I was eleven so it was just a catchy tune about someone called Nelson Mandela to me then (still worth having a listen to today http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgcTvoWjZJU).
Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, Chris Hani are other names that I think of when I think of freedom fighters but there are countless more. So what makes this man so special? He is not exactly known as a family man and he did take part in some questionable acts when he was fighting for his cause. Much has been written about his chronology – the activism, the twenty-seven years spent in prison, the cheeky nature, the respect he has garnered globally. When there is an exemplary person like Mandela who lives among us there are so many virtues one could write about but for me there are two that I hold dear:
Service Here is a man who spent all this time in jail for what he believed was right for his country, and who then upon his release gave himself to his country to serve as President instead of enjoying his remaining years as elderly retiree should. In all he spent sixty-seven years fighting for social justice; this was recognised by the UN when in 2009 they declared July 18th (his birthday) Nelson Mandela International day. The impetus in formally declaring this day is to inspire people to take action for sixty-seven minutes to help the world for the better, “service to one’s fellow human.”I firmly believe we are put on this earth to be the best version of ourselves that we can be and in order to achieve this I believe it is important to give yourself in service in some form… for we all are one.
Forgiveness I quote the great man himself “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.’’ If there was anyone who was entitled to be angry at their imprisonment it would be Madiba (the clan name he is lovingly called) but instead he chose the road of forgiveness and we all know the story of how he invited his jailor to his Presidential Inauguration as a VIP guest, this is one example of the generosity in spirit this man has. When I think about my own life situation and any type of ills that I feel may have been dealt to me, I look to Madiba for inspiration to let go and move forward. It is humbling to know his struggle and know how he dealt with it. Mine pale in significance.
Now he is an old, old man and his health failing and in reality he will not be with us long. The idea of which breaks my heart, my eyes have welled up as I write this. I am grateful I live in this time of knowing his greatness. I know we have to let him go but then who do we look to for a role model of such stature for we live in a world that requires heroes… maybe we need to look internally, maybe that is what we need to learn from this man’s example.