I am Nelson Mandela. Well not entirely, but mostly the part of me that believes in equality. The part that believes in fairness. The part that believes that everyone should have the same advantages, and the strength to withstand and push through.
To quote the great man, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.’ – Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. July 1918 – December 2015.
The landscape of apartheid before he walked my way was ‘slegs blankes’ or whites only. To put it into context it was like ‘right of admission reserved at the funfair of life’. As a person of colour, a non-white, your choices were limited. University was just not an option. The group areas act was in force, which meant non-whites were relegated to live in certain areas and confined to a limited living standards measure. Try to imagine that there is another sub-standard category of life for everything you would need to get by: education, health, transport, and housing. Then add curfews, not being allowed into establishments, parks in neighbourhoods and certain beaches. Top that with a dose of forceful control by the police and national armed forces, who were well within their right to use weapons and had the full backing of the then government to ‘lock you up and throw away the key’. This happened to more people than have been recorded.
And then in 1991, Nelson Mandela walked my way. There are giants of humanity that change the world wherever they stride. Their steps impact the world, and the seismic waves change the landscape for generations to come. He was a giant. A giant for peace, equal opportunities and education. His distinctly memorable voice spoke for the less privileged, the marginalised and disenfranchised members of society. He took giant steps against racism and prejudice and cleared a new path for others to follow.
What separates him from any other is the length of time he suffered imprisonment. No other leader has spent as much time in the ‘school of hard knocks’. Imagine spending 27 years of your life in prison preparing for the position you will take when you emerge.
He was incarcerated for 27 years. To put that into context; it was an entire lifetime for some, such as Jim Morrison, Janice Joplin, Jimmie Hendrix, and more. It’s hard to understand how he was imprisoned for the same time it took others to live out their dreams and change the world.
What’s more profound is that he was not angry nor vengeful after being imprisoned, but instead compassionate and forgiving. His mindfulness influenced his cabinet, governance and ultimately the whole country in its departure from the apartheid era. Bishop Desmond Tutu was right next to him guiding broken hearted people through the ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ when emotions were running high, and anger lay just below the surface.
Nelson Mandela will always be the figure that defeated apartheid. His colourful shirts flowing gently as he did his renowned ‘Madiba Jive’ and his face beaming with the most joyous smile. The reformation he led has changed the world. His formidable stature will continue to cast an impression on me and millions of others in our generation and the generations to come.
“During my lifetime I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But, My Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” — An extract of the three-hour speech given by Nelson Mandela on 20 April 1964 from the dock of the defendant at the Rivonia Trial.
It is an honour and privilege to write this article as a representative of World Vision, an organisation who’s values of equality for all align with Nelson Mandela’s life’s work.