“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of their skin, or their back ground, or their religion. People must learn to hate and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart that it’s opposite.” N.M. The names South Africa and Nelson Mandela are synonymous. In the eyes of the world Nelson Mandela is the human face of South Africa. In fact, Nelson Mandela epitomizes all that is good about South Africa. His reputation grew in proportion to the number of years he was hidden from the world; 27 in all. The name alone became a living legend long before he walked out of Victor Verster prison in Cape Town on February 11th 1990. But perhaps more extraordinary is the fact that the legend continued to grow worldwide, as the man measured up to the legend and in essence exceeded it. Everyone it seemed wanted to be in the presence of this icon of humanity in a time where few world leaders of stature are to be found. In a lonely prison cell on Robbin Island in the deep Atlantic Ocean he came to the conclusion that there could be no winners or losers in the South African struggle for recognition of the dignity of the black people to be equal in the land of their birth. Somehow all the people who make up South Africa would have to be seen as winners. He learnt the language of his oppressor the Afrikaners, a language derived from Dutch and to their amazement when they eventually turned to him, in the late 1980s, to save South Africa, he insisted to address them in their language. At huge personal cost coming from his own political party, the African National Congress (ANC) he preached a message of reconciliation and not revenge, unity and not diversity, together and not apart. It was the shear stature of the man that converted an entire nation. South Africa owes this one man a huge debt. He followed his dream that denied him 27 years of his adulthood and deprived him an opportunity and ability to be a husband, father and grandfather. He cherished this dream amid cynicism and despondency, as when he embraced his jailers and racists, and preached reconciliation instead of victors’ justice. His critics argued that reconciliation came at the expense of justice. We forget that to Mandela and his comrades, who suffered dearly, forgiveness was never intended to supplant justice and the truth. It was a national therapeutic, cathartic process to heal a wounded nation and exorcise its demons. He is gone now but the legacy will live on and indeed he will continue to inspire the nation for generations to come. Those that had the joy of meeting him were truly blessed as he is revered by many as having been the icon of the 20th century. His resting place in a remote corner of the Eastern Cape will become a national shrine; uniting a divers nation learning to live with one another. The loss to the nation is immense but the memories will inspire the nation not to lose sight of the values and direction he gave the country in his long walk to freedom. We can continue the long walk by simply living by his principles and ideals. His wear like the deep footprint on clear beach sand. We can preserve them before they are erased by the high tides of moral decay bedevilling South Africa today. What is certain is that with the loss of Nelson Mandela the country is no longer the same. His moral authority that bound the nation together is no longer there. Though his memory will live on and inspire generations to come it will not stop a substantial sector of the population claiming a more equitable and just participation in what is referred to as the new South Africa.
He has left an indelible mark on the psyche of the nation, a mark that allows all South Africans to say we lived in his time. 95 years is a long time but all South Africans believe it is not long enough and mourn in a special way the parting of this truly one great individual. God blessed South Africa but giving them a person such as Nelson Mandela. Sean O’Leary M.Afr December 9th 2013