Others have already written pieces, better than I can, on his life and what he meant to South Africans, and to the world at large. Suffice to say, he was the spiritual father of our country, its greatest hero, and deeply beloved by most South Africans. We mourn his death, but more than that, we celebrate his life.
The struggles and sacrifices that he and those like him made set all South Africans, no matter our race, free. Free from the cycle of hatred, oppression and injustice.
It’s easy, looking at South Africa today, to see only its problems. Politicians who seek to subvert the mechanisms of the state to enrich themselves, debates on the limits of free speech, the crushing poverty many still live in and the violence and crime it births. Easy to focus on these things, and to forget how far we’ve come in such a short time, and what a miracle it is that we managed to transition from the apartheid government to a true democracy without degenerating into full-scale civil war. Current events demonstrate how easily these things slip out of control.
That transition relied on the courage, moral strength and leadership of people like Nelson Mandela. For myself, I think of all the things I want to achieve in my life, all the dreams I have. And I try to imagine having 27 prime years of my adult life snatched away by the brutal inhumanity of a system that judged my worth by the colour of my skin, that sought to smother the desire that every human shares, to determine their own destiny and pursue their own potential. I try to imagine the strength of character it takes to endure all that and yet forgive, and seek reconciliation with your oppressors instead of revenge.
When Nelson Mandela took office in 1994, at 12 years old I was too young to really understand the significance of the event. Much of the sickness of the old South Africa was invisible to me, at the time (an ignorance that was itself a manifestation of privilege). It’s only as an adult that I really comprehend what it all meant, and fully appreciate the efforts of leaders like Mandela.
On Friday, the day after he passed, I was driving to my girlfriend’s house , the radio stations filled with programming commemorating his life. And I passed a group of young boys, walking up the road. Obviously fresh from soccer practice, all in the kit, laughing and tossing a ball between them as they walked. Black kids and white kids, just playing together as friends, no divide separating them.
Mandela’s legacy lives on in his children.
Rest well, Madiba.