Yesterday we watched on the television the drama of the day long celebration in Soweto of Nelson Mandela’s life. it was a moving experience and reminded us of that day in February 1990 when we had watched his release after 27 years of imprisonment on Robben island. Could we believe our eyes then about what was unfolding for South Africa and its apartheid system?
Like so many others now I have found myself asking how I might try to measure up to this extraordinary man’s example with his commitment to justice, his compassion, his humour, his love of others and his lack of rancour against those who had been responsible for his long years of imprisonment. A truly great man, whose like I will not see in my lifetime.
Over ninety world leaders had come to South Africa to celebrate Mandela’s life – an indication of how significant his contribution has been not only to South Africa’s development but to the politics of the whole planet. Most moving was the speech of US President Barack Obama, whose African origins made him an obvious choice.
In a well crafted speech he talked of how Mandela had ‘not only freed the prisoners, but the jailers also’. He chose to extend his theme into a debate about poverty, malnutrition and the need for education, making a connection that some of those present would have found uncomfortable. ‘Too many leaders support Nelson Mandela and his ideas, but are not tolerating dissent in their own countries.”
Obama finished by referring to the ancient African word ‘ubunto’, which roughly means ‘humanity to others, but has the notion of inter-connectedness, ‘I am what I am because of who we all are’. We have plenty to learn from Africa and Nelson Mandela.