Sunday, 8 December 2013

Freedom is my name

The recent passing of Nelson Mandela and the many tributes to him cause me to reflect on the man behind the legend. Nelson Mandela is a name that I’ve grown up with. During my youth, whenever I had occasion to  pass the South African embassy in London, in rain or shine, it was never without protesters chanting anti-apartheid slogans.  He was jailed in the year I was born and for 27 years he (and I) traversed this earth amidst angels and demons.

Apartheid was an enemy of humanity. It made dark skinned people believe they were inferior and it made the fair skinned believe they were powerful. Power and weakness make uneasy companions and it is against all common and uncommon sense that laws were passed to strengthen this  tyranny and oppression. Such was the “enlightened thinking”  in the South Africa of the 20th century that there were designated areas for black and white races. The two races could not eat, drink or dance together and bi-racial relationships were completely outlawed. Naturally, the economic divide was even greater with the white race living in affluent, gated communities whilst the majority black race languished in ghettos known as townships.

Nelson Mandela was born into such a world but he did not accept his lot. He was not resigned to his fate and founded a political party, the ANC, with other like minded individuals to challenge the white led government. Nelson Mandela fought for emancipation for his people and unlike, Martin Luther King, he was not committed to non-violent protest. Mandela and the ANC understood the law of the jungle and that meant taking up weapons to further their cause. Violence surely begets violence but Mandela never renounced it and was arrested, tried in the kangaroo court of the day and sentenced to life imprisonment.

The rest is history. Nelson Mandela became the most revered political prisoner for his unflinching resolve to never give up the fight for equality. The South African government may have imprisoned his body but his mind and spirit roamed free. He was perhaps the freest man even during his incarceration mostly because of his fearlessness.

In prison for 27 long years, Mandela was freed from the demons of greed, malice and arrogance. In an interview shortly after his release, he said that he lost his arrogance and became humble. A humble man is a rare thing and it is only a humble man that can truly forgive. “Let bygones be bygones” is how he dismissed the miscarriage of justice.

Nelson Mandela went from prisoner to president and lived to see a new South Africa where the “the ideal” he was prepared to live and die for was finally realized when apartheid was completely dismantled. It was a monumental achievement for all who endured and lived through that phase of history.

Nelson Mandela was a rock to his people and an example to the world. He is a giant amongst men and now walks in the valley of angels. 
The demons - within and without -  were transformed just as long ago water was turned into wine. The world is freer because of him though injustice continues but the spark of inspiration that he leaves as his legacy is our call to action. Mandela is a name synonymous with freedom.



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