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, Cape Town City Hall, February 11, 1990
“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” — Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela’s long walk is over and he is forever free. South Africa ― indeed, the entire world ― is now mourning his passing and celebrating his life.
Mandela was an ordinary man who responded to an unjust world in extraordinary ways. In the plethora of this week’s news coverage coming out of South Africa and the tributes for Mandela pouring in from around the world, the words of one Canadian TV journalist stood out for me. He reminded us that it is difficult today to imagine how the very idea of a peaceful outcome to the end of South Africa’s apartheid regime seemed like pure fantasy more than 30 years ago.
Mandela showed remarkable grace in finding a way to forgive and demonstrated remarkable political skills that were instrumental in birthing a new South Africa. Without him, I doubt I would have ever travelled to what for me was one of the most beautiful and most complicated countries I have ever visited.
Today was a National Day of Prayer and Reflection in South Africa. South Africans gathered in churches and mosques and synagogues to reflect on and give thanks for the man they call “Tata” ― the isiXhosa word for “father.”
One of the places where South Africans gathered was St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town. St. George’s is known as the People’s Cathedral for its role in the resistance against apartheid. It was one of the few places during the apartheid regime where people of all races were free to worship together and it was here in 1989 that Archbishop Desmond Tutu first referred to South Africans as the Rainbow Nation. I visited this cathedral in 2011, which is when I took this photo.
If I could have been anywhere on the planet today, I would have chosen this church, this city, this country.
As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind I would still be in prison. ― Nelson Mandela
Today is Nelson Mandela’s 95th birthday. The world was worried he would not see this day, given his current state of health, but, here it is, he is here, and South Africa is celebrating.
When I visited Robben Island (the prison where Mandela spent 18 of the 27 years he served behind bars), what struck me most was how incredibly close it is to Cape Town ― and what a beautiful view of Table Mountain you have from the island. I imagine the prisoners would have been haunted by that view.
Mandela was allowed one visitor a year for 30 minutes, and could write and receive one letter every six months. The grace he has displayed since his release in 1990 is a testament to the healing power of forgiveness.