Mandela! Dead at 95, December 5, 2013. An Appreciation.

N.Mandela in his cell on Robben Island (revisit} 1994

By Dr. Jeffrey Lant

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

Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is the author of over a dozen books on marketing, several ebooks, and over one thousand online articles on a variety of topics.


This author has published 72 articles so far. More info about the author is coming soon.

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