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Friday, December 06, 2013

Farewell To A Great Man: NELSON MANDELA

I wasn’t born when Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964. I got to know a lot about this great man via news reports, photographs of him in the newspapers, songs demanding for his release, documentaries and Social Studies classes at school. It was Dad who answered my earlier questions: “Who is Mandela?” “Why is he in prison?” “What is the meaning of apartheid?”
 I clearly remember that night in February 11, 1990;  when my father excitedly calling Mum from the kitchen and we all saw him on T.V, a suited grey-haired gentleman triumphantly holding his fist in the air as he finally walked out to freedom after 27 years in prison. The whole world not only celebrated his long awaited release but the end of the immoral regime of apartheid; where black South Africans were treated as third class citizens in their own country. A documentary followed by the musical SARAFINA! told me a lot of things about that terrible time (including the massacre of protesting workers and students); years later I learnt even more after reading Alan Paton’s CRY; THE BELOVED COUNTRY and Athol Fugard’s SIZWE BANZI IS DEAD. The latter in particular made me cringe; black Africans having to carry identity books and work-seekers’ permits, the racial inequality and other things they had to put up with at the time e.g. “Whites Only” signs really sickened me, that and the fact that apartheid in South Africa was actually legal.
This is what Nelson “Madiba” Mandela fought against and in the end, his (and his supporters in South Africa and other countries) paid off big time; independence, end of apartheid, freedom and in 1994, he became the first democratically elected black president of South Africa. What I liked best about him was his efforts in bringing about racial reconciliation in South Africa after that; wanting both the blacks and Afrikaans to get along from then on and let go of the past- not an easy thing of course, especially if one looks at how long apartheid reigned in that country; from 1948 to 1990. His commitment to World Peace and willingness to forgive the people who had put him in prison in the first place really moved me. He said, “As I walked out the door toward the gate of freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.
When he was sentenced, Mandela was 45; when he was released, he was 72,  over two decades in incarceration. Yet, his defiant spirit remained unbroken all those long years and he was a symbol of hope to those who abhorred racism and apartheid and motivated them to continue fighting. While in prison, he recited William Ernest Henley’s poem- INVICTUS ("Unconquered" in Latin) - to other prisoners, influenced by the poem’s message: 


“Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquered soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance,
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeoning of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scrolls,
Iam the master of my fate:
Iam the captain of my soul.”

The world is now in mourning of a great man but we must not be sad, even though naturally we all are right now. Like Gandhi before him, Madiba cared about his people and fought for the end of tyranny and inequality. He did and achieved a lot of things; including influencing thousands. Now he has gone to rest. As we say goodbye to Nelson Mandela; we pray to Almighty God to grant his soul eternal rest, to give his family and South Africa the fortitude to bear this loss. And the rest of the world, particularly world leaders to remember what Madiba fought and stood for and do their best to emulate him. REST IN PEACE MADIBA. 

"I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying"- Nelson Mandela

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