In the past few days I’ve watched a number of documentaries that have highlighted the injustices of South Africa’s past. It’s easy to become angry and question why people were segregated on the base of the color of their skin. But a history of inequality is not a history South Africa shares alone. The world is filled with stories of racial, gender and social discrimination. For many, this is still a reality.
Looking at the life of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela I can see how many have been inspired by his messages of hope and peace. His idealistic dream of a rainbow nation has helped shape this country, but he knew that the only way forward was to confront the demons of the past.
“South Africans must recall the terrible past so that we can deal with it, forgiving where forgiveness is necessary but never forgetting,” he said.
One of the most incredible acts of forgiveness was when Mandela met with, Hendrick Verwoerd’s widow, Betsie. Verwoed constructed and implemented the apartheid system of racial segregation. Mandela also met with Percy Yutar, the judge who unfairly sentenced him and the other defendants, to life imprisonment.
Mandela said: “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”
I ask myself, if I were in his position would I have done the same?
I never experienced apartheid in South Africa. I was born in Zimbabwe, a year later my family relocated to Scotland and at the end of 1992, when I was two, we moved to South Africa.
I first met Mandela in the midst of my history text books in primary school. For many years I learned the names of people, places, dates, massacres and marches. And yet there was so much left out.
Although I’ve spoken to many people who have had different experiences of living in apartheid times, there has been one common thread, the name Nelson Mandela. For some it was originally associated with a terrorist, for others it was symbol of hope.
South Africa’s cry for freedom reached all corners of the earth and at the center of it all was Mandela. His inspirational messages and steps to reconciliation in the country inspired and challenged the world.
The impact he has made was evident in the news of his death.
Tata Madiba (father Madiba), as he was known in South Africa, passed away on December 5, and although it was a sad occasion, it was expected. His death made headlines around the world and drew in delegates from 90 countries who came to bid him farewell.
On December 10, a memorial service was held for Mandela, in Johannesburg, and in the midst of the pouring rain many sang songs, danced and shared stories as they remembered his life. One lady said it was as if the heavens were crying for Mandela.
Among the world leaders in attendance was US President Barack Obama, who was greatly influenced by Mandela without whom he may not have started the journey which led him to be where he is today.
“For the people of South Africa, for those he inspired around the globe, Madiba’s passing is rightly a time of mourning, and a time to celebrate a heroic life. But I believe it should also prompt in each of us a time for self-reflection. With honesty, regardless of our station or our circumstance, we must ask: How well have I applied his lessons in my own life? It’s a question I ask myself, as a man and as a President.”
The stories and lessons of Mandela’s life will forever be filled in the history books.
I believe that there are many more books to be written, stories to be told and movies to be made of the heroes of the struggle. Not just heroes from South Africa but from around the world. It is these stories that will inspire the youth and create a new generation of young leaders.
The world will never forget Mandela. The man who, in his life, united a nation and, in his death, united the world.