I am grateful for Nelson Mandela. I will always be grateful for this extraordinary yet very human man.
We all need a hero, someone to admire and emulate, someone who demonstrates the very qualities that we deem essential and valuable. My father was my hero and continues to be my hero and will be until I take my last breath. Most fathers are our heroes, the person who will save us, find us when we are lost, and catch us when we fall.
Nelson Mandela is one of the world’s heroes. We looked up to him without noticing colour or birthplace or any of the things that seem to divide us, make us different from one another. Nelson Mandela dedicated his life, sacrificed all normalcy and comfort, gave up the privilege of raising his children and being a family to bring about change. His voice started out small and hushed, but before long he was demanding the world pay attention to the atrocities of racism and apartheid that were so commonplace, so accepted in South Africa. Mr. Mandela was imprisoned for twenty-seven years for speaking up against such injustice and inequality. His body fought on despite the by-products of the abhorrent conditions he lived with in prison.
“A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones – and South Africa treated its imprisoned African citizens like animals”: a passage from Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk To Freedom. The book is a wonderful read and most of it was written in secret while he was in prison and with the help of his comrades he was able to keep the manuscript safe.
I fear our future without Nelson Mandela, born Rolihlahla, which “literally means pulling the branch of a tree”. In his own words, the colloquial translation of his name was “trouble-maker”. He was born in a small village in South Africa on the banks of the Mbashe River and circumstances of his childhood, his father’s early death, his being handed over to a regent to be raised, his running away from an arranged marriage, undoubtedly shaped his future and taught him the absolute necessity of freedom, freedom for every living soul, our most basic and fundamental human right.
Mandela told us: “It was during those long and lonely years that my hunger for the freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom of all people.”
Mandela represented hope. We held him up as our lamp to light the way, to encourage us to stand against wrongs, to look for better paths and we need his example, when we are called to be extraordinary. He became the first Black President of South Africa in 1994; he was seventy-seven. He did what he set out to do; he never gave up, not even in the darkest hours of prison.
We all know a little something about Mandela; we’ve read or heard his story, been witness to the change he worked for. We admired his calm but determined commitment and we were inspired. Most of us would have given up, would have resorted to violence, would have succumbed to loneliness and despair and rage would have won us over. I fear that without him we will slide back into the pit of racism that he seemed to single-handedly pull us from.
I know we can’t place the responsibility of leadership and action always in the hands of someone else. I know there are pieces in each of us that would mirror Mandela if we stepped up and took our place to honour him. We know when we have looked away from something uncomfortable, some wrong that should have been righted. We know; in the pits of our stomachs we know, and that feeling should become our voice.
I wish Nelson Mandela could have lived forever. I hope he taught us that each of us has a responsibility to insure that injustice never raises its ugly head.