Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, 1918 – 2013
(Please allow me to allude to the United States in my praise of Nelson Mandela.)
We often use the word “hero” somewhat frivolously. But Nelson Mandela was a hero, a genuine hero. He rose above years of imprisonment serene and forgiving. Nelson Mandela served 27 years of a life sentence because he could not accept the domination of one race over another race. He fought Apartheid, or the segregation of the Black population of South Africa from its White population. There was no equality, which means there could be no justice.
“The archetype of the Creator is a familiar image in Blake’s work. Here, the demiurgic figure Urizen prays before the world he has forged. The Song of Los is the third in a series of illuminated books painted by Blake and his wife, collectively known as the Continental Prophecies.” (Caption and photo credit: Wikipedia)
William Blake (28 November 1757 – 12 August 1827)
Apartheid and Racism
Apartheid remains an evil. It is the plight African-Americans had to endure after they were ‘freed’ and it is a plight they still endure. Slavery ended 148 years ago, officially, and segregation has also ended, officially. However, all too often African-Americans are considered by many as an inferior race. United States citizens do not even spare President Obama, a good man. They claim wrongly that he impoverished America. They also claim that he does not know the Constitution. President Obama knows the Constitution. Because they are false, such accusations suggest a degree of racism.
Whatever the color of their skin, human beings are “created equal” and they constitute a ‘brotherhood.’ Yet, 148 years after the abolition of slavery, there are voter purges and white supremacists. The Ku Klux Klan is still active. That is Apartheid. So, did the Union win the war? Well, it did and it didn’t. Winning a Civil War is not easy. The issues that underlie the war stem from within. But the Civil War freed the Black and that was just, despite the losses suffered by slave owners. Therefore, it is everyone’s duty to abide by the principles the Civil War upheld: freedom and genuine equality, not a mere facade.
Fortunately, many descendants of individuals who ‘lost’ the war have since ‘won’ the war. They have grown to realize that human beings cannot be sold like cattle, tortured, executed and raped because they are a possession. We are born free. Racism is a form of Apartheid.
Ready to Die, but not to Kill
When Nelson Mandela left prison, he did not bear a grudge. I am sure there were times when the past leaped from behind, causing him anger and pain. But he retained his princely conduct. He was a royal among his people, the Thembu people, and a prince among humans. He was a good person and goodness is the supreme achievement. Nelson Mandela did not blame anyone in particular for being convicted of treason. He attacked a wrong: Apartheid. He was ready to die for his cause, but he was not ready to kill.
In this respect, he resembled Mahatma Ghandi. He battled an injustice choosing a passive form of resistance. Like Ghandi, Nelson Mandela sought equality, without recourse to violence. He sought respect for colonized Africans, but he was not disrespectful of white Africans. That would have been wrong.
The garments one wears may show difference: a different culture or a different religion. But values are not garment-deep and they are not skin-deep. They come from the heart and from the soul.
The people I honour do not bear grudges. They treat others as they wish others to treat them. They remain compassionate despite the pain they have suffered. They see humankind as a brotherhood. They are not warriors or terrorists. They are not arrogant. On the contrary, they are humble. And they most certainly do not shutdown a government at a price that could feed millions and do so in an unjustifiable attempt not to pay taxes. If paying higher taxes allows the implementation of a safety net for a nation, one pays higher taxes.
Revenge is not justice
Revenge is not justice. We seek justice because there has to be justice. Human beings have rights and the attendant duties. There has to be justice and there has to be a degree of equality. We cannot possess another human being. And if one has caused great losses, one’s duty is to undo the wrong that has been perpetrated to the extent that it can be undone. But there cannot be revenge. It mustn’t be an “eye for an eye.” If it is, hatred persists. It passes down from generation to generation and efforts at reconciliation are forever futile. Bad faith sets in.
Nelson Mandela did not seek to be avenged. He did not seek to punish those who had caused him to be imprisoned for 27 years for seeking justice for his people, which was his crime. He was much too caring a man to strike back in an ignoble manner. But he had a just cause. After leaving prison, he led his country. He was elected President of South Africa. He served one term and then lived in privacy.
When he died, Nelson Mandela was a “shadow of himself.” But not that he has left his earthy robe, he stands tall again and he smiles. This is how he will be remembered.