A Fare Thee Well to One Great Man. The Authors Collection.
December 10, 2013
Though I am a few days late, I am compelled to stop and honor the extraordinary Nelson Mandela. I have long had a soft spot in my heart for South Africa. I first came in contact with the South African culture when Canada took in many South African professionals fleeing the height of that country’s violence in the mid-1980s. Those who were willing to offer their services in rural areas were given the nod. Living in northern Alberta, I met a number of doctors from that immigration and began to hear one side of the story of South Africa.
When Mandela was released from prison in 1989 and took his stance of forgiveness over vengeance, I stood awed. It reminded me of something Margaret Mead once said: Never ever depend on governments or institutions to solve any major problems. All social change comes from the passion of individuals. Only what lived within Nelson Mandela was far more than passion. His was a power in him to live integral to what he knew to be true, riding out beyond the emotional, the political and the profiteer. And to his nation he brought one true chance – the possibility to move beyond a relentless history of racism and apartheid that ruled the psyches of the white ruling class.
I saw firsthand the impact of Nelson Mandela when I asked one of the doctors, who most typified the righteousness and racism of the privileged sector of South African society, what he thought now on his return from a visit to his homeland shortly after Mandela’s release. I was stunned to hear him say, “I was wrong. We cannot live this way any longer. We must learn to share this country with one another.”
I then visited the country in the early 1990s and began to think of it as perhaps a new home for me. I found myself once again single and felt a new frontier might help me move on. As well, that beautiful country and its new leader fascinated me.
I fell in love with South Africa’s natural beauty, its wildness, the spirit of its people, the laughter of the Zulus, and the heart of an ancient land still beating with such fervor. And I stood awed by the Black man who was shepherding this nation back to sanity.
On the day I left, I walked into the airport in Johannesburg. A young Zulu porter approached me and asked if he could help me with my luggage. An election was in the offing for the position of King among his people, the then present king seen as someone who might not work in the way Mandela was seeking to bring people together. Curious, I said to him, “Who are you voting for?” He looked at me a bit pensively and answered, “The King.” I raised my eyebrows in question. Only then did his huge smile beam across to me as he finished his sentence, “The King – Mandela.”
Every now and then at a critical time in some land’s history, a single individual will emerge and stand taller than all those around him. Whether a Washington, a Lincoln, or a Mandela, they give to us a new vision, one of such power and honor that those around them rise up and choose the long view, the road to truth, the inclusive design of a successful future.
Sometimes I think we belittle those of great social achievement by seeing them as saints. No one who has ever walked the road that Mandela did sees himself as saintly. Those byways are torturous. They skin the soul a well as the knees. Mandela knew best how to evaluate his life and offered us his wisdom for our own use as well:
“Do not judge me by my successes, judge me
by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”
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