Mandela certainly was a hero

I miss Nelson Mandela. I can feel the shift as if his very presence on Earth, the simple fact that he was breathing, kept us safer.
I felt the air go out of me, felt my insides collapse, when I heard the news of his death—despite his death being imminent for months now.
We all should mourn the loss of this man, this symbol of anti-apartheid. A man who said, “enough;” this gentle inspiration of change.
Many of us will remember the violence in South Africa, when economic sanctions were placed on the country, when the rest of the world watched and judged and waited. We winced, we pulled our shoulders up, and most of us turned away.
The injustice demanded change, but it was so slow in coming. The movement was glacial in overturning the madness of racism and apartheid.
Yet Mandela kept the fire burning—kept the flame of hope bright, and he took his rightful indignation and rage at being imprisoned for 27 years and transformed that horror into something positive; something that changed the world for each of us and certainly changed the reality in South Africa.
“A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens but its lowest ones–and South Africa treated its imprisoned African citizens like animals” (a passage from Mandela’s autobiography, “Long Walk To Freedom”).
Mandela wrote this book, at least the majority of it, while he was in prison. And with the help of friends and comrades, Mandela was able to keep the manuscript safe and hidden; to be published after his release (read it if you get the chance).
Mandela was born with the name Rolihlahla, in a small village in South Africa on the banks of the Mbashe River. His name literally means “pulling the branch of a tree.” In his own words, the colloquial translation of his name was “trouble-maker.”
The circumstances of his childhood—his father’s early death, his being handed over to a regent to be raised, his running away from an arranged marriage—undoubtedly shaped his future and taught him the absolute necessity of freedom; freedom for every living soul, our most basic and fundamental human right.
Mandela told us: “It was during those long and lonely years that my hunger for the freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom of all people.”
The future without Nelson Mandela seems fragile, fearful; but we can’t place the responsibility for leadership and action always on the shoulders of someone else. There are pieces in each of us that could mirror Mandela if we stepped up and took the place he has left.
We know when we have looked away from something uncomfortable; some wrong that should have been righted. We know, in the pit of our stomach, and we should let that feeling guide our voice and our actions.
Maybe in this season of anticipation, this season of hope, this season of expectation and awe, we will stop waiting for someone else to come and make the world better and instead do it ourselves, in whatever way we can, no matter how small, no matter how insignificant, no matter if there are witnesses or not.
Mandela was just a man; he didn’t ask to be called a saint unless, by his definition, a saint is someone who keeps striving to do better.
We all can dig deep, knowing that we are all human, all flawed, and on any given day we may not be the best version of ourselves, but we can keep trying to get it right; to do better.
We must.
wendistewart@live.ca

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