A Giant Walked Among Us

I‘ve spent time in thought about the passing of Nelson Mandela and what his life meant to me. I’ve also considered how really little I know about him despite numerous stories in circulation.  Unless you met him and talked at length, you too may have a very limited perspective on how truly remarkable he was and how much he accomplished. He suffered enormously at the hands of people who automatically disliked him because of his skin color.  He displayed grace and dignity towards those who chose to be cruel and inhumane to him and his family.

English: Young Nelson Mandela. This photo date...I can understand some of the problems he had to face, I’ve seen how others with dark skin have suffered within our own country but this doesn’t mean I’ve the ability to identify with someone of his stature. It’s not as much about how he suffered or indignity of being an outcast of your own nation because of Apartheid.  It’s about how he conducted himself as a man willing to set aside all of the past hatred, torture and imprisonment once he was released. He became the sterling example of a compassionate human willing to do whatever it took to bring his people into democracy and equality.

There are limits to my ability to adequately explain how much of a difference he made, how much he cared about seeing this set right and refraining from any animosity or bitterness toward people who treated him as a lesser being. There are those which claim he is shown on video declaring, ‘kill all the white people’, but that’s not his actions or his public response to terrorism against him and his people. Imprisonment for anyone is degrading but it has to be even more so when you’re struggling against people in power wanting to subjugate anyone that looks like you. The United States has also witnessed people willing to risk everything to advance the state of humanity. Nelson Mandela stands as a leader with many others of exceptional character. During his life, change has come about because of his willingness to set aside feelings of anger, animosity and revenge.

I read an article which attempted to do what most media outlets find themselves compelled to write. In it they suggested that despite all that he achieved, he wasn’t quite up to someone’s standard of perfection. Their biggest allegation was that he associated with people who had a bad reputation. Excuse me, but the comparison is all too familiar. Didn’t they say that Jesus associated with “sinners” and publicans. Well if anything, that was the strength in both men. His ability to see past the weakness of people whose faults became glaringly obvious when standing next to him and to include everyone in this coalition of humanity. That was his strength, to not act superior or to be vindictive. He asked people to rise above their problems and their flaws and include everyone in the decision to move forward and rebuild South Africa and to help everyone restore themselves through a capacity of love.

English: Nelson Mandela's prison cell on Robbe...“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” — Nelson Mandela

I’ve also read stories by some that have all too quickly set aside the moral imperative Nelson Mandela proposed. They have taken the opportunity to promote themselves and their ideas as superior over others.

When Nelson Mandela succeeded Frederik de Klerk as President of South Africa he set into motion a healing process by appointing those who were once supporters of Apartheid. Now in an effort to boost their own ideology, some have taken to publicly criticize anyone in current conservative leadership.

As a brief review of the facts, many conservative leaders from the Reagan era, including Dick Cheney, were highly suspicious of the African National Congress (ANC). These American leaders sided with the Prime Minister of South Africa from 1978 to 1984, Pieter Willem Botha, head of the National Party and a staunch advocate of racial segregation and the apartheid system. The conservative American leadership thought the ANC was simply going to support another state sponsored Communist dictatorship. So, the American national conservative leadership, primarily comprising Republicans, continued to support the South African National Party in an effort to bolster a relationship in that hemisphere which would supposedly be for human rights. That’s true irony. Dick Cheney supported sanctions against the ANC because the ideas in circulation were the ANC was a terrorist party.

The Reagan administration’s official goal was to end apartheid, and although it consistently called for South Africa to free Mandela, the U.S. was reluctant to support economic sanctions. It wasn’t until 2008 that the State Department removed his name from a terror watch list.

“It took just two or three years to sweep away white rule and install a new kind of government. Most revolutions of this sort are unbelievably violent and horrible. They feature mass executions, torture, expropriation and massacres.”

“Think of the French Revolution of 1789, the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, or Chairman Mao’s communist regime in China.” All of them more violent than that of South Africa.

Nelson Mandela's 3rd wife

Nelson Mandela’s wife, Graça Machel

It’s easy to see how wrong-headed supporting the National Party was, and for some conservatives, they have this as part of their public record. When I saw this op-ed item in Salon, “Fight the right-washing of Nelson Mandela’s legacy.” I was drawn to it because I thought, how could anyone not be grateful for the legacy of Nelson Mandela? Is it possible we have leaders who support Apartheid today? As I read through it, I realized the purpose. It was written as an ideological club to exemplify the superior ideas of liberals and to further trash anything which opposes them, no matter the relevance. These ideologues quickly wrap themselves in cloaks of glory and respect earned by those who suffered in which they have no right to share. In-spite of the desire for harmony and unity contributed by one of the most outstanding leaders in the last and present century, we’re once again brought to the floor of divisive partisan sympathies.

I wish we could temporarily set the ideology struggles aside and celebrate the life and legacy of a true giant that once walked among us.

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3 thoughts on “A Giant Walked Among Us

  1. Pingback: Spanish conservatives, Nelson Mandela and Franco | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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