In celebrating Nelson Mandela International Day
We bring from www.writerssecrets.com Article Series
Mandela! Dead at 95, December 5, 2013. An Appreciation.
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Tune in to hear a special reading by the author, Dr. Jeffrey Lant and read along with the text below.
Author’s program note. One evening several years ago I was dining in London with two of the nicest (and most charming) people I know, Lord and Lady Mackay of Clashfern. Born the son of a railway signalman, after a lifetime of zealous study and application of the law, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher appointed him Lord Chancellor of the realm, the equivalent of Chief Justice; a position he honored from 1987-1997.
During the course of the kind of delightful evening only the British know how to arrange, everything perfect, nothing ostentatious and the best table talk on Earth, I asked Lady Mackay who was the most impressive person she had met in all their travels. Her answer was swift and sure: “Nelson Mandela”.
She talked, as all discerning people talk, of Mandela’s megawatt smile, of how he looked her in the eyes, of how she felt his full attention whilst he was speaking with her, and how she felt his serenity and peace. Then the question that the world has always wanted answered: how after 27 years in the bleakest of prisons had he managed not only to preserve his sanity and the best of what makes us human, but to emerge with love, real love, in his heart, not corrosive anger, hatred, and rancor. Mirabile dictu, these were absent, no sign at all of his Via Dolorosa. And this, to her, to me, to all, was as a miracle.
And because he personified the very essence of optimism and hope, I have selected such a song for the music to accompany this article. Go now to any search engine and find “Free Nelson Mandela”. It is a song written by Jerry Dammers and released in 1984 as a protest against Mandela’s imprisonment. Unlike most protest songs, this track with lead vocals by Stan Campbell is upbeat and celebratory… the perfect sound for a man who knew the power of hope and therewith changed the world, one smile at a time, love his constant guide, staff, policy, and credo.
Born an aristocrat.
Rolihlahla Dalibhunga Mandela was born July 18, 1918 in Mvezo, a village in South Africa’s Transkei region, on the southeast coast. His father, Henry Mgadla Mandela, was village chief and a member of the royal house of the Thembu tribe. He died when Mandela was just 9, when he became a ward of the Paramount Chief Dalinyebo. Nosekeni Fanny Mandela, his mother, was one of his father’s four wives.
At age 7 he was given a new first name by his schoolteacher, in honor of Horatio (Lord) Nelson, the most famous British seaman, whose victory over the combined French and Spanish fleets in 1805 at Cape Trafalgar accelerated British colonization of Africa, a matter pertinent to Mandela’s future.
Like so many revolutionaries, Mandela’s early years were privileged years. He was educated at Methodist schools and attended the University College of Fort Hare. He was an avid sportsman, ran cross-country and boxed. His hero was heavy weight champion Joe Louis.
He was a good student, liked school and was popular. People knew even then that he was special, great things sure to come. Such a paragon needs must be married and so his legal guardian arranged a suitable match; Mandela disagreed and so became the run-away groom, supporting himself as a law clerk, earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of South Africa in 1942.
“One thousand slights, a thousand indignities.”
Ever since St. Paul entered the revelation business on his celebrated journey to Damascus, people have scrutinized important people for the moment they experienced an epiphany, destiny, fate, kismet. Albert Schweitzer, for instance, had this moment on the Ogooue’ river in French Equatorial Africa; (now Gabon.) “Reverence for life.”
But Mandela recalled no such epochal, defining experience, the moment he crossed the Rubicon. Instead his politicization was a thing of years, decades, pinpricks subtle, humiliating, and never ending.
It all added up to this, “Kaffir man, you are black. Kaffir man you are God’s garbage. Kaffir man look down, look down, for that is where you must stay.” And upon this fundamental basis a system for total control was evolved, white against black, forever apart, adamantly divided one from the other, the white minority to rule forever, the black majority to be ruled and submit, without cavil or complaint if possible, with brute force if not.
The name of this system was Apartheid, “separateness” in the Afrikaans language of the ruling elite, and the system, conceived and legally implemented from 1948 in hate, fear, bitterness and woe was as close to hell as mortal man could conceive and develop.
Apartheid touched everyone and everything. It crushed the oppressed… it corrupted the oppressor. No one under Apartheid was free, not oppressed, not oppressor, for the system ruined all. It was a deal with the Devil, and the Devil took his toll, every long minute of every bitter day.
At last the Devil grasped at Nelson Mandela… but the Devil soon knew this man would not submit. And so even the Devil was confounded by the invidious system. No one was immune and untouched but one person refused to accept the intolerable, though that would have been the easy way, the way of least resistance.
That person was Nelson Mandela, and we cherish him not because he recognized a moral evil. Many did, including brave members of the elite who made their aversion clear. It is not merely because he acted against this pernicious system, many did that, too. It is rather that he learned the essential task of embracing the oppressor who condemned them both to a system of despair and destruction yet rose above, to love in response to every calculated insult, every vulgar and demeaning humiliation, every affliction, every action intended to devalue, diminish, and degrade.
To each, to all, in every situation, he returned love… thereby redeeming a great people from the sin they could not free themselves from alone. Members of the elite though they were, responsible for every outrage, they more than ever needed a man of destiny to save them…. and Nelson Mandela was that man, though there was nothing inevitable about his rise to eminence and political importance. Instead, as he was insulted as a black man over and over again he advanced in his determination to right this wrong.
As he was humiliated as a black man over and over, so he vowed to do his part to overturn the egregious apparatus of state-sponsored racism. Instead, as he was demeaned in every aspect of his humanity, so he was adamant that this must be stopped here, now, forever… and he said he would do his part, though death be his portion.
Is it any wonder these great lines from “Julius Caesar” were his favorite? “Cowards die many times before their deaths/The valiant never taste of death but once.” And he was the most valiant of men. However as we all know, discretion is the better part of valor… and discretion is a matter of experience and education. The more he knew, the more he observed, the more he considered, the more he moved towards his ultimate goal — freedom– something far more important than mere retaliation and revenge.
This all took time, pains, focus, commitment and resilience. It was never overnight, never easy, never the work of a single day, and it took the faith that moves mountains. Thus Mandela, so often in prison from 1956 to1990, created himself, examined himself, crafted himself and moved towards becoming the man he needed to be and all the people of South Africa needed him to be for the great work at hand.
>From Communist to non-violence, essential elements in his “Long Walk to Freedom”.
Like so many black men around the world, Mandela was at first determined to use any means to topple a system that systematically devalued him and his kind. If the transition could be peaceful well and good. If not… then let the chips fall where they may. Freedom might well need weapons, and these weapons might have to be used.
This was the Great Fear of the white minority and many blacks. And it was very real, a thing of apprehension and profound anxieties, a Reign of Terror far greater and more bloody than Robespierre’s. The possibility of such a bloodbath was always present and who can doubt that if Mandela had continued to advocate violence as he did in his early career the “beloved country” would have cried indeed? “If this man wasn’t there, the whole country would have gone up in flames.” This is the considered opinion of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the man who won the Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela in 1993.
Here was the problem Mandela faced. Particularly young black men pressed him for action now, armed action if necessary, war a l’outrance .They demanded “results”, damn the consequences. Following this bloody course would have activated the full power of a powerful regime with catastrophic consequences for all. This was the policy of Apocalypse, and if it had been implemented South Africa would have drowned in its own blood.
He knew the undeniable attraction of this adamant position. After all, he had once advocated this line himself. But as he matured he knew he had to take a very different course than turning the land he loved into a battlefield. He needed to stay focused on the big picture, the policy that would save the nation, not destroy it; ensure freedom to all, not deny it to anyone.
To ensure this end meant keeping the hotheads in line while using their undeniable power to press for constructive resolution; to use their outrage to bring constructive interaction, to bring forth harmony from rancor. This was difficult, often frustrating, perplexing, baffling. And it demanded statecraft of the highest level; statecraft perfected in a 7 feet square prison cell he occupied at a maximum-security facility, Robben Island, near Cape Town. He spent 18 years there before being transferred to a less isolated prison on the mainland.
“You have no idea of the cruelty of man against man until you have been in a South African prison with white warders and black prisoners.” Under these circumstances Mandela could have perfected hatred and bile, becoming the merciless Angel of Retribution. The world would have understood this, but Mandela chose a different course, the harder course, the course of freedom, liberty… and a united South Africa, a destination almost unimaginable in the acrid years after 1948… the years when the regime denied Mandela sun glasses. He suffered permanent eye damage; but it was the ruling authorities who were blind.
Thus, simultaneously he had to let the members of the elite know that they had to make compromises to appease his followers, who could not be expected to be patient forever. A declared Communist at first, this orientation estranged the United States, which continued to support the rigidly anti-Communist regime, that being far more important in Washington, D.C. than civil rights. It was an understandable position, but only exacerbated an already confounding situation.
Through this maze of bewildering possibilities, many contradictory, often repugnant to a nose-holding degree, Mandela had not only to maneuver… but he had to grow. The fate of millions depended on it. And bit by bit the world came to know it, nowhere more than in Boston, Massachusetts, a city which revived its revolutionary heritage by supporting Mandela’s.
There on June 23, 1990, I took advantage of the opportunity to see and hear the last of the great racial liberators, Mahatma Gandhi, The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mandela himself. All three were men of privilege and learning who put their comfortable lives on the line for something of worldwide impact and importance; men who had to master themselves before they dared to ask others to follow.
Of course, I had to see the last of these titans and so along with over a quarter million other souls, many radiant, all of good cheer, I trekked to the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade alongside the Charles River. Here Mandela, just released from prison, made his first remarks to America and its iconic City on a Hill. He said little, told us nothing new. He didn’t have to.
He was the man who had cleansed a great nation of its debilitating burden, thereby saving that nation and the lives of thousands; thus even the tiniest tot knew something special was happening here and remembered. Then he smiled at the delirious crowd, danced on stage to the delight of all, thence speeding on his way to immortality.
At that moment every person in that undulating sea of humanity felt better, happy, glad to be reassured that a single person could make the world a better place and do it without revenge, retribution, retaliation, or the slaughter of a single person, black or white. That is the legacy of Nelson Mandela, and its relevance will never dim or tarnish. We must all see to that…
About the Author
Dr. Jeffrey Lant is known worldwide. He started in the media business when he was 5 years old, a Kindergartner in Downers Grove, Illinois, publishing his first newspaper article. Since then Dr. Lant has earned four university degrees, including the PhD from Harvard. He has taught at over 40 colleges and universities and is quite possibly the first to offer satellite courses. He has written over 40 books, thousands of articles and been a welcome guest on hundreds of radio and television programs. He has founded several successful corporations and businesses including his latest at …writerssecrets.com
His memoirs “A Connoisseur’s Journey” has garnered nine literary prizes that ensure its classic status. Its subtitle is “Being the artful memoirs of a man of wit, discernment, pluck, and joy.” A good read by this man of so many letters. Such a man can offer you thousands of insights into the business of becoming a successful writer. Be sure to sign up now at www.writerssecrets.co
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