June 12, 1964, I was five-and-a-half years old. On that day, Nelson Mandela was
sentenced to life imprisonment for civil disobedience against the then ruling
government of South Africa, the oppressive white regime of the Nationalist
fifty years later, on December 5, 2013, Nelson Mandela died peacefully in his
bed, surrounded by his family, and the world has gone into a frenzy of mourning.
watch the worldwide television news with a sense of both unreality and immense
national pride. Who would have thought,
after the secret shame of having to defend myself throughout all my formative
years for being born a South African of the wrong colour, today I would be
proudly South African, knowing that, despite its tragic past, this land has
become one of hope and inspiration, because of this one man?
other than his private and political circle, who of these mourners, from every
corner of the globe, really knew Nelson Mandela?
|My sister Iona's husband, |
Ian Cockerill (far right, in blue tie)
meets Madiba at Goldfields listing on NY Stock Exchange
what did he mean to me personally, a white middle class child of apartheid
There are three Mandela moments
that had a major impact on my life:
few years ago, after he had retired from political life in South Africa, I read
a story about Nelson Mandela meeting an ordinary family walking on the beach. I
can’t remember the details – Was it an American or a South African family?
Where and when did this incident occur? – but I do remember the impact this story
had on me for, this most famous of men, this extraordinary, world-famous man,
humbly introduced himself to the family, spent a few moments chatting to them
and then continued his beach walk.
did not, as so many famous (and not so famous!) people do, make the egotistical
assumption that this family would automatically know who he was. He met them as his equals. Who, really, can
be equal to Nelson Mandela, the man, the legend? In his eyes, this ordinary
family was his equal and he met them as one ordinary human being meeting
another. In doing so, he became to me a symbol of what true human dignity and
grace should be.
a gifted sportsman and a white Afrikaaner for my Father, how could the 1995
World Rugby Cup final not be another defining Mandela moment for me? I’ll never
forget the surge of emotion, the overwhelming sense of hope and pride that
filled me when Mandela walked out onto the Ellis Park pitch wearing the No 6
jersey of the Springbok Captain, Francois Pienaar.
knows what strength of will it must have taken, what inner emotional struggle
Mandela had to battle with to pull on that green-and-gold jersey that
symbolised so much of what he had hated and fought against his whole life? But he did it and, in that simple act before
the whole world, he proved that he practised what he preached: peace, tolerance
and understanding of a culture very different to his own.
has already proved that Mandela had right, justice and the world on his side
during his fight for freedom. But, arguably, Mandela’s greatest legacy to the
ages, his greatest achievement which raised him so far above the many ordinary
men and women who suffer physically every day, in jail or out, is that, once he
was released from prison, Mandela rose to his highest potential as a human
being by conquering his inner demons.
will we ever know which struggle was greater for him: enduring the harsh
physical conditions of prison life on
Robben Island or that moment he pulled on that green-and-gold jersey representing
everything he had fought against for so long?
Mandela himself would be the first to remind us that making peace, like making love, requires two people to achieve a satisfactory end. Even
as we mourn the loss of this great man Mandela, let the world not forget that
another man had to walk that same long road with him to bring a new democratic
order to this country of ours. And, without that man, Mandela would not have risen above his past to become a living legend and an inspiration to all people, he would have remained a prisoner, both physical and spiritual.
President FW de Klerk, the last white President of the apartheid government of
South Africa and, together with Mandela, the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, had
to turn his back on his whole personal and political history and voluntarily give away his power when he
stood alone and made the momentous decision to free Nelson Mandela, unban the
ANC and enter negotiations for a peaceful transference of power from minority
white political rule to majority black political rule. What other politician, holding all the power,
has had the ability to do that? What
ordinary person gives up their own power to another for an unknown future?
we South Africans go forward into 2014, the most important critical election
year in our young democracy, an election year when we have a corrupt and power-bloated
ANC government in power and when Mandela’s vision for South Africa is in real danger
of slipping onto the road of tyranny so many African democracies have walked
before us – we, and the world, can learn from both these men.
Mandela, the victim of an unjust society, we can learn endurance, forgiveness,
tolerance, overcoming anger and bitterness, and the right use of power: that
great men serve their people with humility, grace and sacrifice.
FW de Klerk, the last titular head of that unjust society, we can learn to face
and accept our inner darkness, that shadow self that lurks within all of us, and
we can learn to make new choices irrespective of our personal, ancestral and racial
if we do not learn from both these great peacemakers, from the powerful black
freedom fighter and the courageous white Afrikaans leader, we face a future in
which our past will only change colour and the huge potential of this most
beloved country will be shackled forever in repeating the human tragedies of
the past rather than living up to the ideals Nelson Mandela sacrificed so much
During my lifetime ... I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.
– Nelson Mandela, Rivonia Trial Speech
of South Africa’s four Nobel Peace Prize winners, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond
Tutu, once spoke of South Africa as a “rainbow nation,” a
delightful image of all the different colours living in harmony in our newly
the different colours in a rainbow’s arc, as beautiful as they are, are still
separated from one another by invisible borders.
prefer to think of a future South Africa that is an exquisite quartz crystal: a
colourless gem that when held up to the light, glitters and shines with all the
beauty of the rainbow contained within it.
go forward into 2014, into our future as an evolving democracy, without the
living Nelson Mandela.
us honour his ideals, his life and his legacy by leaving the past where it
belongs: behind us.
us look within our own hearts and strive to walk the same path of inner
struggle and personal change that both Mandela and de Klerk walked, so that we can make
South Africa a country known not only for its natural beauty, but also a place
of integrity, tolerance and good governance.
in Nelson Mandela’s own words, "let it never be said by future generations that indifference,
cynicism or selfishness made us fail to live up to the ideals”
which the great man himself lived and fought for throughout his long and
Hamba kahle, tata Madiba. You showed us the way and we must continue the journey.
We can change the world and make it a better place.
It is in your hands to make a difference.
~ Nelson Mandela