Mandela’s legend and majesty

By: By Tessa Nettleton

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Dec 11, 2013 05:53 pm

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Many in the world have been touched in some way by this man who gave so much of his life to ensure others in South Africa would benefit both now and into the future.

From the time of his death last week to his upcoming burial in his hometown, Qunu, thousands will have paid tribute in their homes, on the streets, and at venues around the world to the legend and majesty that was Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.

His life story has been publicized in all forms of media, and needs little introduction.

An inspiration to many, on his release in 1990 after 27 years of imprisonment, Mandela’s message to all South Africans was one of the need for discipline, reconciliation, forgiveness and understanding. He believed further bloodshed would serve no purpose, and for South Africa to avoid civil war, the only way forward would be through the lack of vengeance. The courage of thought and action, wisdom and steadfastness he showed at this juncture when the country was fraught with racial tension, hatred of the government, fear and violence was legendary. He never swayed from his vision of non-racialism, justice, human dignity and equality for everyone living together in peace and harmony in a multiracial, democratic South Africa.

To this end, once freed, he worked tirelessly alongside other stakeholders to develop an interim constitution to immediately change the South African constitution from one of alienation to one of inclusiveness, framed by a document protecting the rights of citizens to prosper without discrimination.

The first truly democratic election in South Africa in 1994 brought the ANC and Mandela into power, and the new Constitution was promulgated by him in 1996. He stepped down from office in 1999, remaining in the public eye while working on care and prevention of HIV-AIDS, and poverty alleviation in South Africa.

It shames me that not until I attended university in a town closer to Qunu than to Cape Town, did I really comprehend the enormity of injustice that apartheid brought to people of colour in South Africa.

Though born in Cape Town, my family left South Africa when I was a toddler, and returned 10 years later to what was for me a strange African land. The fact whites and non-whites travelled on public transport in separate areas, many places were for “whites only”, schools were racially divided, shops had different entrances for whites and non-whites, people of colour lived elsewhere, and seemed not to work in jobs that were more than labour – was all something I simply accepted.

Nelson Mandela and the ANC to me and my school classmates were merely a story dreamed up by someone to frighten us. We thought little about the insurrections in Soweto and elsewhere as these incidents — though shocking visually — had no impact on our daily lives.

In university, however, I learned from people of all races of the need for change, and saw the apartheid government for what it was — a shockingly oppressive regime where you were deemed inferior, with no voice or rights, if you were not a white.

After university, I worked alongside people of all colours. I heard stories of hardship from coloured folk, of poverty, of leaving their young children alone for hours every day, travelling miles on public transport to work minimum wage jobs with no career path, and no equal opportunity or rights. This strengthened my resolve to show respect and civility to everyone regardless of colour, and educated me in the struggle for freedom that swept South Africa time and again. Discriminated against, used and abused, beaten and bloodied — the anger, sorrow, despair and violence people of colour have experienced over the past era of South Africa’s history cannot be minimized by anyone.

Mandela lived his life maximizing the reality of this past to drive change for the present and the future.

In visits back home over the past few years, I have seen a marked increase in interracial tolerance and acceptance, and I am grateful to Madiba for this.

My son posted this on facebook, “Heavy heart. Thank you, Sir, for everything you have done.”


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