“He was a universal symbol of social justice” – Boehmer.
When Nelson Mandela died on December 3rd 2013, I remember the day so clearly as I was in Cape Town at the time. I almost felt this huge depth of honour to be in the nation at such a deep time of loss and remembrance for this world changing leader. The hustle and news spread so fast and soon after his death they hosted memorial services on his behalf all over South Africa. Miraculously I was offered a ticket to attend one of the stadium events in Cape Town and joined a friend to do so. I will never forget the train ride there, the many voices of those on route to memorial of a radically inspiring man still rings in my ears today. The atmosphere was electric and unstoppable. He was a man that unlocked voices and brought unity amongst all people. I almost find it hard to describe the feeling that whole day brought me without tears welling up in my eyes. I was moved to my core and depths of my heart, that one man could have such a significant impact on such a huge number of people, during his lifetime and afterwards too. His passion, anger for social justice and courage to act upon his beliefs moved me deeply.
Once we arrived at the train station, it was a bit of a walk to get to the entrance of the stadium. We walked past many stalls selling all sorts of merchandise and I tried hard not to lose sight of my friend. At one particular stall I had a memorable conversation with an Afrikaans woman who was deeply touched by my heart and willingness to wait a moment and hear her story, despite the hustle around me. It was during our conversation that I realised the power of “legacy”. The fact that another’s life can impact us so much that we change certain things in our own lives as a result of the model they led with. I don’t remember exactly the words we shared, but I deeply remember the profound impact that moment had on my heart.
The event was breathtaking from the start. The crowds flooded into the Cape Town stadium and the echo within the place brought shivers to my body. It was an unforgettable feeling. Standing there with my little South African flag in hand and waving it in remembrance of Mandela was an honour I did not take lightly.
Every person that shared that day moved my heart in such a profound way. I was most deeply moved by the voice of a young person they had on recording, it highlighted to me the power of love in leadership. That no matter our age we are born to shine and lead others into love and freedom. The words ricocheted throughout my being and I could feel new paradigms beginning to form on the inside of me. “I am not made for a mediocre life, I am made to change nations and people” was what I began to think to myself. “I cannot sit in this stadium and simply listen to the radical changes one man has made and not be inspired to make a difference in this short time on earth that I have. I am born to lead others into unity, freedom and truth”.
“It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailer as well; to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion, generosity and truth. He changed laws, but also hearts” – Barack Obama (previous US President).
“Mandela was a fearless freedom fighter who refused to allow the brutality of the apartheid state to stand in the way of the struggle for the liberation of his people. Being a lawyer, he understood the possible consequences of his actions but he also knew that no unjust system could last forever” – Jacob Zuma (South African President).
“Was he a saint? Not if a saint is entirely flawless. I believe he was saintly because he inspired others powerfully and revealed in his character, transparently, many of God’s attributes of goodness: compassion, concern for others, and a desire for peace, forgiveness and reconciliation”. – Desmond Tutu (South Africa’s Archbishop)
What personally moved me about Nelson Mandela was his depth of persistence and vision for freedom. His ability to remain free despite facing imprisonment, insults and life threatening words. His passion for one thing, his deep conviction and his vision of a more unified existence, were what gave him the strength to survive his days of struggle. He was a man that no matter his situation or physical position, remained free on the inside. He had one mind and one focus. He truly revealed to me that freedom is not a state of our body but a state of our mind. No matter what situation we face, freedom is possible. His “Long Walk into Freedom” inspired me to believe that I too could be an ambassador for freedom and take the journey no matter how long it takes. It highlighted to me that things that are worth it, take time. He knew what he believed and he lived it.
Towards the end of the evening there was an opportunity to go down to the main area of the stadium. We were standing in the seats to the left of the stage and my friend had one special pass that could us into the main area, one at a time. So when it was my turn I walked down to the centre of the stadium and simply stood there for a moment breathing in the moment. I felt so tiny in this huge stadium. I looked down at my blue, flowery skirt and flag in my hands and wondered how someone like me could be transformed by a man like Nelson Mandela and leave a legacy that would last beyond my lifetime? The whole event had moved me so deeply that I couldn’t just walk away as the same person. Something must change. Something must shift in my heart so that my reality and other’s realities change.
As I was pondering over these thoughts the music began to play and I had the desire to dance. Although I was alone, I was surrounded by many others. I started to twirl, there right in the centre of the stadium and something significant happened in my heart. A desire emerged and I knew I wanted to bring the world into freedom through dance. Dance unifies, brings joy and releases our inner child. As I spun and spun I felt this depth of knowing that this was a defining moment in my life. There were a few people nearby me and I began to join arms with them and spin with them too. Before I knew it the whole bottom of the stadium was spinning and dancing. I danced my way forward, through the crowds of people and while the momentum was picking up, I noticed a young girl who had some beautiful dance moves. I went and whispered in her ear “lead us in your dance”. She turned to me, smiled and then we all began to follow her movements. It was a significant moment of unity, joy and a deep sense of love for a man that made a moment like this possible. This young girl came fully out of her shell and suddenly saw the leader she was made to be.
Later I had a beautiful conversation with a young African girl who I shared my testimony with and she opened up about her struggles in facing depression and suicidal thoughts. She kept mentioning to me how she was moved by the joy in my eyes and how thankful she was to meet me and be loved by a woman of my skin colour. I was deeply touched and moved to believe that one could feel less than due to their skin colour. This thought made me super angry and yet overjoyed to be celebrating a man that paved a way for us to follow the footsteps of.
I knew from this day forward I would fight for freedom.
“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”
Beautiful Tributes to Nelson Mandela
You have taken a bow on this world’s stage and been promoted to glory to revel in the presence of our Lord and maker. I can picture it all, you seated on a stool surrounded by those who have gone before us as you regale them with tales of your illustrious life fraught with trials and tribulations from which you emerged victorious and with renewed determination. In the words of one of my favourite hymns, “It is well with your soul” now, free from pain and any form of affliction. May your selflessness and courage continue to be a beacon of hope for the downtrodden in our struggle to be freed from all forms of discrimination and social exclusion. Even though you have ceased to be with us physically, your spirit lives on in our hearts. In the eternal words of that enduring song by Boyz To Men and Mariah Carey, “And I know you’re shining down on me from heaven, like so many friends we’ve lost along the way, and I know eventually we’ll be together, one sweet day”. May your soul rest in eternal peace Madiba, amen.
(December 6 2013)
“Nelson Mandela embodied that which is best among our people and that which is best among humanity. We are reflecting on a life that transcended the fault lines of our humanity. It is a life that took under its care millions of South Africans who were oppressed. It is the life of a man who appropriated the pain of millions of South Africans – he took the humiliations and the dignity they were stripped of and made them his own. And with the weight of that burden on his shoulders, he worked to free us all and in a way made black and white embark on the journey to reconcile with each other; to forgive past transgressions and hatred; accept democracy, embrace human rights, non-racialism, non-sexism and begin the task of the long and arduous odyssey to become a nation of diverse cultures, religions and races. A nation that speaks in many tongues but that should finally have one voice that melds into a chorus of unity. A nation that is united under one flag, with a unifying coat of arms and singing one national anthem.
Though we no longer feel his physical presence, his spirit continues to inspire us. It continues to fortify us. It enjoins us to continue to strive for peace, freedom and justice. It motivates us to fight discrimination, oppression and exploitation wherever they may manifest. It helps illuminate our way as we navigate the path we must necessarily travel towards a united non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous society.
Nelson Mandela taught us that the human spirit is indeed capable of triumph over adversity. He taught us humility. He taught us honesty. He taught us that leaders must see themselves as, and behave like, servants of the people.
He followed the advice of his fellow African revolutionary, Amilcar Cabral, who wrote:
“Hide nothing from the masses of our people. Tell no lies? Mask no difficulties, mistakes, failures. Claim no easy victories”
He taught us that people come first. Not just some people. All people.
He taught us discipline. For progress to be made, it is necessary to turn ideals into reality. It is necessary to theorise, to strategise, to persuade, to unite, to mobilise and to struggle tirelessly and relentlessly.
Nelson Mandela taught us that great victories are not willed.
They are products of hard work.
It was the bonds of friendship and solidarity built across the continent and across the world that established a global movement to isolate racist South Africa. It was the mobilisation of a broad front of our people in all their formations, united around the leadership of our movement that assured our victory over the forces of oppression and exploitation. We remain united to this day in our determination that never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another. Madiba taught us that: “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”
We must confront that which divides us.
We must pursue that which unites us.
We must treat corruption for what it is – an assault on the poor and an affront to our liberty. We must build the kind of society to which Nelson Mandela dedicated his life.
He was our teacher and our mentor. He never gave up on the struggle to free us all and unite us into one nation. He was forgiving, conciliatory and tolerant. He was acutely aware of our fault lines as a people. He was aware of our weaknesses and failures but acknowledged that despite the rage, the resentments and noise that sometimes engulfs us he understood that we are all frail and vulnerable and could only succeed if we reach out to each other and join our hands in striving for the ideals he inspired us to reach for.
He taught us to build the nation based on respect for each other, no matter what our differences; tolerance of others, no matter how our prejudices may be; compassion for the weak and poor; above all perseverance in the face of adversity; fortitude in the face of fear; forgiveness in the face of humiliation, and humility in the knowledge that we are all equal – that to be one with one another we have to be at peace with ourselves.
Nelson Mandela has shown us the way to freedom.