Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Today is International Mandela Day

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. 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

Yes indeed, today is International Mandela Day.

It is quite cliché for me to say this, but this, to me, recalls a time when the world seemed a more innocent, hopeful place. Even when you saw evil in the world, people seemed to believe that there should be some justification for that. Case in point, apartheid in South Africa. It was an officially racist system, and the leaders of the National Party (the predominately Afrikaner party) made every effort to legitimize the system on an intellectual basis.

They were reprehensible, to be sure. Yet, as Mandela suggested in his autobiography, at least you knew what you were dealing with, and who believed in what. These days, we have invisible multinational corporations hording and hiding wealth, and trying to exert influence in the world's affairs. 

Still, fighting against apartheid took some doing. It was the law of the land, and protesting that meant severe repercussions. Mandela was obviously imprisoned for a very long time - 27 years. He could not really see his family grow up, and he probably lost the best years of his life during that time.

Yet, he stuck to his guns, so to speak. He felt that apartheid was wrong and unsustainable, and he endured many years of hardship, most famously on Robben Island off the coast of Cape Town, while outside of the prison gates, his legend grew. He symbolized the hopes for a new South Africa, the potential for the "rainbow nation" that, in fact, did eventually emerge.

Mandela was released from imprisonment early in 1990. From there, he led negotiations to end apartheid and establish a multiracial democracy in South Africa with FW DeKlerk. I actually went to the United Nations in New York City to see him in 1991, and saw his entourage (and him in a car, but mostly just his shape) as well as Winnie Mandela and other personalities, including Mike Tyson and Don King. I still have fond memories of that day.

Ultimately, Mandela's ANC won the 1994 election, the first multiracial election in South African history, and the rule of the white minority government finally ended in South Africa.

In his inaugural speech, Mandela mentioned that no longer would South Africa be the skunk of the world. Funny, because part of what makes this world today so murky and uncertain in my eyes is that I feel that in many ways, the United States has replaced South Africa as the skunk of the world, particularly since the election of Donald Trump to the White House. It is a sad truth, but one that I feel is largely true. Among developed nations, the United States seems to be the basket case, as it remains the only developed nation that fails to provide it's citizens affordable, universal healthcare (South Africa was the only other developed nation that did not have it during the apartheid years, although they quickly established such a healthcare system once apartheid ended), it has the most prisoners by far in the world because of the for profit prison system, and it is the only nation in the world that denies the science of climate change.

All of that is just a reminder that the struggle to create a better world remains, and that nothing is easy or to be taken for granted. In that struggle, we look to figures in our past, who inspired with the power of their words and thoughts and actions. In that regard, few figures in history were quite as towering as Nelson Mandela.

Guide: what you can do on Mandela Day, 17 July, 2017:

1000's to walk in Cape Town on Mandela Day by James de Villiers, News24, 2017-07-18:

Kenya celebrates International Mandela Day by Sarah Kimani, 18 July 2017:

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