Saturday, December 7, 2013

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela: July 18, 1918 - December 5, 2013. Rest in Peace.

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

It is very difficult for me to describe or explain the emotional attachment I have to Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, known as Madiba, an honorific that is the name of the clan from which he comes – the Madiba clan of the Xhosa people.

I was one of millions who cried when TV showed his release from 27 years of incarceration on February 11, 1990.  And I am one of millions crying now.

Madiba triggers emotions in me that are normally very private.  He embodies so many characteristics that I admire: courage of conviction, patience, vision, tolerance, compassion, and humour. And, of course, dignity.

"During my lifetime I have dedicated my life to the 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 live together in harmony with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and see realized. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

He has been able to set aside, at least in public, what one would expect from someone who had been jailed for 27 years by an undignified, bigoted, oppressive regime.  He has shown no anger, bitterness, no desire for revenge, and no need for retribution.

Instead, when he became president, together with the remarkable Bishop Tutu, he fashioned the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which encouraged the perpetrators of heinous crimes on both sides of the apartheid fence to confess their crimes publicly, often in front of the families of the people whom they had killed or maimed.  And if they confessed, showed remorse, and asked for forgiveness, they were forgiven.


Madiba and Bishop Tutu embrace

Every time PBS shows its documentary on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, I try to watch it.  It is a most moving insight into the depths of inhumanity and cruelty that people can sink, as well as the heights to which people can soar. 

All areas of conflict in the world could learn from this, rather than devolving into endless cycles of revenge and persecution.

Madiba believed for there to be a peaceful transition in South Africa - something that few people expected - all South Africans needed to feel included, feel wanted.  Before and during his Presidency, he encouraged the citizens of South Africa to bury the awful past and to work together for a future that included everyone. To create the Rainbow nation that is South Africa.

To unite the multiple ethnic groups of South Africa, it was decided that the new South Africa should have eleven official languages: Afrikaans (the language of apartheid), English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tswana, Tsonga, Venda, Xhosa, and Zulu.  Less than 2% of the population have as their first language one that is not an official language.

The new, haunting national anthem, Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrica (Lord Bless Africa), replaced the old one, Die Stem (The Call or The Voice), which was always sung in Afrikaans - the language of the oppressor.  The new anthem is also a model of inclusivity.  The first verse is in Xhosa and Zulu, the second in Sotho, the third in Afrikaans, and the fourth in English.  The Afrikaans stanza is from the hated, old national anthem.

You can listen to the new anthem here - you will hear the language changing. 

One of the most emotional moments, probably for all South Africans, came in 1995, the year after the country became democratic.  For years South Africa had been isolated from international sport.  In 1995, the Rugby World Cup was held in South Africa to celebrate the arrival of democracy.  And South Africa won the title.  But it was not just winning that was emotional for a sports-crazy nation long starved of good competition.  It was the presence of Madiba, dressed in a Springbok (the national team) rugby jersey, sporting the number of the Afrikaans captain.  Rugby has always been dominated by Afrikaners – and to have a black president embrace the game and literally the white players was completely unexpected.  It defused potential opposition and welded people together.  (The movie Invictus captures these moments very well.  It is well worth watching.)

Then Madiba did what most politicians should do, but don’t.  After one term as President, he said it was time to leave.  To leave the country to be led by others.  Even though I believe the country would now be better off had he stayed for two terms, I have the greatest respect for his decision.

I found the following photos and quotes on ABC's Good Morning America on  They speak more eloquently than I can.

From what I have read, Madiba, although a private person, was also someone who enjoyed physical contact - kissing, embracing, and hugging.  South Africa's Mail and Guardian newspaper has put together a short slideshow of Madiba with some of his more famous huggees!

Close to my heart was Madiba's commitment to education:
"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."
And to children.

You can honour Mandiba’s belief in children through the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund by donating here to help construction of a new Children's Hospital in Johannesburg.

Please be generous.
"It is my deepest conviction that the children should be seen and heard as our most treasured assets. They are not ours to be used or abused but to be loved and nurtured and encouraged to engage in life to the full extent of their being, free from fear.
The dream to build a child-centered society is a permanent mandate for the Fund to share with its local and global partners. The difference the Fund makes should see it contributing to the remaking of our world to be more familiar with the smiles of children than their tears."

"We owe our children – the most vulnerable citizens in any society – a life free from violence and fear."

Two South African groups have recorded beautiful versions of Amazing Grace.  What better song to describe this amazing man.

What is really important, however, while we mourn his passing, is to rededicate ourselves to trying to make his dreams come true.

Rest in Peace, Madiba.  Hamba kahle, Tata.  The world will miss you.

I will miss you.

Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrica!

Stan - Saturday


  1. Thank you so much for this beautiful tribute to Nelson Mandela, a hero to the South African people and to the world.

    It is unimaginable what horrors he endured while incarcerated, away from his loved ones, his friends, his people. Only within the last few days did I learn that for 10 years in jail, he did not even have a bed, but had to sleep on the concrete floor; that he only had one visitor a year for 30 minutes and only could receive 2 letters a year.

    Yet, he was the most resolute of leaders, along with his comrades who were also jailed at Robben Island.

    Mandela was also a brilliant political strategist and tactician, dedicated every moment to the struggle to free his people from the heinous apartheid system. Whatever he did was toward that end.

    And he also united the country, using whatever means he could, rugby certainly being one of them. I concur about Invictus, a fantastic movie. There is a revelatory scene in which Mandela's assistant asks him why the former apartheid government secret service had to be in his security detail and in his office.

    His reply: Because if they aren't, there will be civil war.
    Always thinking, always figuring out how to unify the country.

    What an amazing human being was Mandela, beloved and respected in his country and worldwide.

    I hope that South Africa can move forward toward eliminating economic inequality and wiping out all vestiges of apartheid.


  2. He showed the human race the pinnacle of what a human being can be. To love him is to love all of humanity and all it can be. By dying, he has proved he was not the archangel I have have often seen him to be, but one of us. Our love for him should know no bounds because it is also a love of the best in all of us. This beautiful tribute helps me weep tears of sadness, tears of joy, tears of awe.

  3. So moving, Stan. And this is a time to look forward, to maintain what he achieved. Yet I was touched by a question from a child on being told of Madiba's passing that Kate Tiurkington tweeted: "Who will look after the world now?" The outpouring of emotion across the world seems to reflect that...

  4. I cannot think of another soul on earth to take his place. I'm sure there must be someone out there, but in the sad state of our world how will he or she ever be heard above the din of all the charlatans?

    Beautifully said, Stan.

  5. I have no doubt there are many people in the world who share his thoughts and attitudes. But very few of them are also leaders, willing to take any punishment and even death, unwilling to break their beliefs. He had an incredible amount of flexibility, but the flexibility was part of his beliefs, not outside it.

    Leaders like Madiba rarely come along more than once in a lifetime.

  6. Thank you, Stan.

  7. This is a beautiful tribute to a man whose greatness I am only just beginning to really appreciate. Thank you, Stan.