“As I have said, the first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself… Great peacemakers are all people of integrity, of honesty, but humility.” Nelson Mandela
Utata Madiba, Ndilusizi… Hamba kakuhle! Enkosi kakhulu! (Father Madiba, I’m sad… Go well. Thank you very much!)
Nelson Mandela’s retirement charity launch
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, Tata Madiba, Khulu, Dalibhunga, 95, passed away today. One of Africa’s giants has fallen and we are heartbroken. His light and legacy of peace, goodwill and reconciliation will shine brightly for eternity. I am deeply saddened by this great loss to our global community and have dreaded this day for years. I’ve dreaded this day because I knew it would mark the end of a spectacular and inspired life; a life devoted not only to the battle for freedom and equality in South Africa, but also to the path of peace, justice and reconciliation amongst nations.
Growing up, I was made aware of the racist Apartheid regime in South Africa; it was painful and sad to read about the segregation, the passbook system, the killings, and the arrest and sentencing of Mandela and other activists. As a HS student in England, I listened to Bob Marley’s song “War” denouncing the appalling conditions on the African continent; especially pointing out the terrible oppression in the southern region. In school, we read about the Sharpeville massacre, the Soweto Uprising of 1976, and the courageous war against Apartheid fought by many, including children, who gave their lives for the right to be free in their own country.
Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment was on our lips as many nations boycotted South Africa, and students held demonstrations demanding his release and an end to apartheid. A few of my school friends were South African and, over the years, I received several invitations to visit and spend time in Jo’burg and Durban. However, my parents were concerned and wouldn’t let me visit because of the horrific system of segregation and brutal discrimination against black people; what they referred to as the “Unsafe conditions in SA.”
Years later, as an undergraduate student majoring in political science at an American university, I had ample time to read more about South Africa and Apartheid. It was a topic that came up quite often in class discussions, and inevitably, we would have heated discussions about when it would be set aside for a new way of living in South Africa. Back then, some of my classmates felt that it was so deeply embedded in the psyche of the people that it could only end with massive bloodshed. The rest of us believed the days of living under that oppressive regime were numbered.
One point my classmates and I agreed on was that South Africa’s destiny was inextricably tied to Nelson Mandela’s. We believed that if he ever left Robben Island Prison alive, Apartheid would unravel. What we weren’t sure of, back then, was that it would happen in our lifetime. To my great surprise and joy, Mandela was finally released from prison in February 1990; after serving 27 years of a life sentence for his political stance as an anti-apartheid activist, he was freed. South Africa and its people were freed, and oppressed people in other nations were inspired to continue their quest for freedom.
After Mandela’s release, the world watched as the apartheid system crumbled and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission conducted its hearings and healing process. Many cheered as he took his place as the first democratically elected leader of an all inclusive South Africa in 1994. Nelson Mandela served as President for four years and stepped aside to encourage others to lead South Africa’s diverse and complex people; few leaders on the continent relinquish power willingly. In later years, he acknowledged that he sacrificed being with his family for a much greater cause, the liberation of his people, and if given the chance, he wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.