by Pierre le Roux
With Nelson Mandela in hospital again for the forth time and with his condition this time described as serious, many people, including myself, believe that this might be his final hospital visit. He is almost 95 and lived an exemplary life. He also is old and frail, and it is ignorant of us to believe that he is immortal. We will all die some die and all of us deserve to do so with dignity. So in recognition of all that Mandela has done for South Africa and the world I decided to repost this in honor of a national treasure – Nelson Mandela.
Some generations are fortunate to be part of historic moments, moments so profound that it changes to course of history and the path of a nation. For some these historic moments are tragic like the events that unfolded on 9/11 and most people remember where they were and what they were doing when the planes hit the twin towers. For others historic moments are joyful and fill one with hope. Today is the 20th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s release from Victor Verster Prison that was the beginning of the end of Apartheid. Today 20 years ago Madiba took his first steps as a free man after serving 27 years as a political prisoner and would continue on his march to free a nation.
I vividly remember that Sunday of 11 February 1990 when Mandela was released. I was 12 years old at the time but did appreciate that the release of Mandela was a momentous occasion that would change the course of history in South Africa. At the time South Africa was in a national State of Emergency which meant martial law was applied and enforced by the military and many civil liberties were temporarily taken from us – we were not living a democratic country. Much fear still existed and the African National Congress (ANC) was still viewed as a terrorist organization even though they had been unbanned. When Mandela emerged from prison all knew change was coming and this provided hope. His first speech signified a new era, a new path and the birth of a new nation.
Sitting in front of our television Mandela’s distinct voice said “I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom for all”. He appeared strong and focused but uninfluenced by his iconic status. “I stand here before you not as a prophet but as a humble servant of you, the people. Your tireless and heroic sacrifices have made it possible for me to be here today. I therefore place the remaining years of my life in your hands.” He ended his speech by quoting himself during his trail in 1964, quite appropriate as this was the words he spoke before being imprisoned and with these words he would leave “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.”
After Mandela’s release he worked tirelessly so see his ideal for South Africa come to fruition. With the first democratic election in 1994 an uneasy partnership was established between him and the then president FW De Klerk. Having been enemies they now had to work together and the apartheid regime had to relinquish power and make way for democracy. Seeing the country change was tremendously exciting. I saw and lived in history. However, not all South Africans took well to change.
The birth of our democracy saw many labour pains and the birth was difficult. I remember my grandmother one day telling me not to play with my black friends when she was there visiting. I was shocked and angerd by her remark but came to realize that not all South Africans readily accepted change as easily as others. Certain generations would cling to old ideologies and would actively resist progress. Some generations would never accept that the beliefs they were indoctrinated with was wrong.
In the years to follow Mandela received many awards most notably the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize which he shared with FW De Klerk. An award he is most deserving off. Countless people lost their lives, got maimed by bombs and wear scars of torture on both sides of the battle; together with De Klerk he brought peace to a country that was on the brink of collapse. People were finally free and the civil war was over. I remember watching smoke rise from a bomb explosion in Pretoria, having had to evacuate shopping centres due to bomb scares and not being allowed to go out in the city at night due to fear. I remember seeing images of murder and violence. I remember reading signs that read “Whites Only” and I was relieved that all of this was now in the past.
Now more than 20 years later South Africa is no longer the same country Mandela saw when he left the gates of Victor Verster Prison. South Africa no longer is a country divided along racial lines and democracy has prevailed. However, South Africa still has its problems: We still battle with crime, curbing the rate of HIV and AIDS and there still are pockets in society that are racists. In spite of this, when I look at the next generation I am proud of the legacy Mandela has helped us leave behind. Children today don’t see the color of their friends’ skin; they don’t distinguish between rich and poor and they were born free of oppression and hate. Yes, we still have much to do to leave our country better than the way we found it but Nelson Mandela (now 94 years old) can be proud that he lived to see and achieved the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.
Till next time.