Happy weekend everyone.
Being a bookish person, it goes without saying that I love a good hero. Well, today I want to pay tribute to a giant amongst men . . .
or as we know him at home by his clan name,
I was a child when I first heard the name 'Nelson Mandela'. At that time (deep in the seventies in South Africa) his name was a swear word, spoken with hate by the politicians of the day. Mandela was the man who had started Umkhonto wie Sizwe - the Sword of the Nation - the armed wing of the banned African National Congress political party. He had launched the armed struggle against the white Apartheid government by bombing military targets. He was enemy number one, and all South Africans were told to sleep easy because he had been captured, convicted of treason, and slung behind bars on Robben Island for life.
By the time I got to Varsity in the eighties my world view had changed. As a political science and African history student, I was privileged to read some the Umkhonto literature as well as other banned treaties, which gave me a different picture of Mandela. Here he was sanctified, elevated almost to godlike status.
I was wise enough to know that the man who had sought peace all his life until being forced into violence by a tyrannical regime fitted somewhere in the middle of these two poles.
I spent the first part of the eighties with my Varsity room mate and other friends at her holiday home in Bloubergstand overlooking Robben Island. Many a bottle of red wine was consumed debating the plight - and the rights and wrongs - of the political prisoners held in captivity there. I watched as my brothers march to war as conscripts in the fight against the 'Black Struggle'. But regardless of our political beliefs, there was one truth we could never escape: we white South Africans were the pariahs of the world.
Then in 1990 the impossible happened. Years of economic sanctions and civil unrest forced a change of government. F.W de Klerk, a leader with insight and empathy, came to power, opening the door for the release of Mandela and all the other political prisoners. South Africa waited with held breath as the gates of Victor Verster prison opened and this enigma named Nelson Mandela walked free for the first time in 27 years.
For as long as I live, I will never forget his first speech where he spoke of peace and reconciliation with the white minority. I believe he single-handely averted a full-blown civil war in this country.
Mandela was elected as our first black political leader, but served only one term - a pointed lesson to other African political leaders who cling tenaciously to power long after their bloom has faded.
Now, our nation again holds its breath as ninety-five-year-old Madiba lies in hospital, fighting for his life against the 'Old Man's Friend'. Part of me wants him to slip away peacefully into the night to his deserved rest, another clings to him, needing him as our icon who holds our Rainbow Nation together.
Whatever happens, it is in God's hand. Or as his grandson is quoted as saying his 'fate lies with God and our ancestors.'
Happy Friday everyone. I hope you have a great weekend.