I first learned of Nelson Mandela in 1973 when I met my husband, who told me with great disdain about his imprisonment in South Africa since 1962 for speaking out loudly against Apartheid…and being listened to by his people. His compatriot, Steve Biko, another great South African anti-apartheid activist, was also imprisoned at that time. Unfortunately, he died there in 1977. It was a sad, sad day for black South Africans.
I suppose it was then that I began paying more attention to colonization of vulnerable countries by powerful ones and how violating it has historically been to the human rights and equality of indigenous peoples. That it extended so far into the 20th century and even into the 21st is really appalling.
I believe it was a Saturday in the winter or early spring of 1990 when Mandela was to be released from prison. My kids were about 6 & 7 years old. It was being televised around the world, so I ushered them both upstairs to watch the historic event on our (pathetic) little black & white TV. I told them to always remember the occasion, as they were seeing a great man…a man who had survived nearly 30 years of imprisonment and never once compromised his bold and noble principles.
Little did I know then that Nelson Mandela would go on to become South Africa’s first black President, a Nobel peace prize winner, and the initiator of perhaps the world’s first Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which provided much-needed closure for all South Africans from the Apartheid era and the violence it wrought.
Although anticipated because of his age and many recent infirmities, Mandela’s ‘transition’, as South Africans term ‘death’, is a profound loss for the entire world. We should be deeply and forever grateful, however, to have had him in our midst at all.
His life was the model of humility, determination, love, and forgiveness that all humanity should strive to emulate.