Thursday, December 05, 2013

Nelson Mandela's new walk to freedom ...

Robben Island Prison Ferry Sight
Nelson Mandela recently transitioned after a long illness. The "Madiba" (his clan name by which is was often affectionately known) was a towering figure in the 20th and early 21st century, as much for what he did not do as what he did do. His many flaws (played out in worldwide media) served only to highlight the accomplishments - mostly peaceful - that his mere presence sanctioned.

I've only visited South Africa once, and that was just over a year ago. I certainly can't comment on the state of racial affairs there (being barely able to comment on the complexities of race in my own country), I of course saw evidence of racially based inequality (often subtle), but was also amazed at what must have been the changes that have occurred in less than 30 years and with generations still alive who where oppressed and oppressors.

On a personal note, I vividly recall watching Mandela's prison release in 1990. In grad school at the time, a good friend and fellow student was a young woman from South Africa (Titi Pitso has since gone on to do some great work in the South African government). Mandela was released from Victor Verster Prison (in Cape Town) on 11 February 1990. It was a Sunday morning and a quiet day in Arlington and Titi called to say that the news was out and the Mandela was being set free and to quick turn on the TV.

From thousands of miles away, I watched Mandela walk to freedom.

Sadly, when I visited Cape Town, I had hoped to visit the Robben Island Prison where Mandela and many other political prisoners were held. Unfortunately, there were no tickets available for the one free day that I had on the waterfront.

On President Obama's recent visit to South Africa, he compared Mandela to George Washington (a comparison that surely caused consternation), but one that was quite apt. Like Washington, Mandela stepped away from power, both let their countries grow up without their oversight, knowing that the greatest gift is freedom - in this case, freedom from the temptation of demagoguery.

(and, as a pop culture side note, there are some great Mandela songs), I'll randomly choose this catchy one by The Specials):

"Free Nelson Mandela"
Free Nelson Mandela
Free, free, free, free, free Nelson Mandela

Free Nelson Mandela
21 years in captivity
Shoes too small to fit his feet
His body abused but his mind is still free
Are you so blind that you cannot see? I said…
Free Nelson Mandela, I'm begging you
Free Nelson Mandela
- The Specials (Jerry Dammers)

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