Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Coz here's my 67 minutes...

So yesterday was Nelson Mandela's 93rd birthday and was officially declared "Mandela Day" worldwide by the United Nations General Assembley. To commemorate this day, we have all been asked by his foundation to devote 67 minutes of our time in the service of others... whether it's making a new friend, or helping out an old one... many South African's were out and about over the past weekend engaging in community projects and giving their 67 minutes to help mankind.

Now, as a young democracy, we have our fair share of issues in this country. But in the midst of all the chaos and gripes, arguments and disagreements, there is one thing that this entire nation (well 99% of people, there are still some people who's main course every night is Racism with a side of Hate) will agree on and it's that Nelson Mandela is the Father of our nation. And that is why we, South Africans, call him "Tata" (pronounced Taa-ta) which means "Father" in his native Xhosa language.

"Mandela rightly occupies an untouched place in the South African imagination. He's the national liberator, the saviour, its Washington and Lincoln rolled into one" ~ Newsweek Magazine

And he is. He is our Gandhi, Malcolm X, Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King too. Last year when he was ill and the state of his health was unconfirmed, it was as if everything stopped. I imagined fingers clutching pots and pans intended to pound on each other's heads stopping abruptly in mid-air, and everyone dropping their culinary artillery in anxiety and anticipation, wondering if he was OK. The man is clearly loved by all... and why wouldn't he be? He spent 67 years of his life fighting for human rights - our human rights. Twenty-seven of those years were spent incarcerated as a criminal on charges of treason and terrorism and 18 of them were served on Robben Island.

However, what makes Madiba so beloved to all of us is not only what he has done for us, but his impeccable character too...

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.

In 1961 at age 42, Nelson Mandela was a political activist and heavyweight boxer with a law degree from the University of Witwatersrand. In 1964 he was convicted of sabotage and treason and sentenced to life in prison.

We are not anti-white, we are against white supremacy … we have condemned racialism no matter by whom it is professed.

Mandela pictured burning his "identity pass". Every non-white citizen was required to have an ID that stated which part of South Africa they resided in, regulated where they could and couldn't go and imposed curfews on them.

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.

At Robben Island, 1966.

We might have our differences, but we are one people with a common destiny in our rich variety of culture, race and tradition.

Meanwhile, in the streets the struggled continued. Body of 13 year old Hector Pieterson who was shot by police on the 16th of June 1976 during ongoing protests and riots. The day is now a public holiday, known as Youth Day.
No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.

There were many people who fought in the struggle that were not Black. Amongst the Indian / Asian communities, people like Ahmed Kathrada were imprisoned with Mandela on Robben Island. Female activists like Fatima Meer and Zainub Asvat were instrumental to the cause.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

There were whites who fought the regime too. People like Albie Sachs, Helen Suzman, David Goldblatt, Dr. Beyers Naude, Bram Fischer and many many others. David Webster (right) with musician Chris McGregor in Johannesburg in 1987. Webster was assassinated by apartheid goons in 1989.

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.

Amongst the activists, there were hoardes of Muslims, Hindus, Jews and Christians. The fight for freedom had united an opposition and they would often hide, protect and feed the families of Mandela, Sisulu, Jacob Zuma and others... hiding them in their homes when Apartheid Police came looking for them.

I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one's head pointed toward the sun, one's feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair.

Whites sit on a bus stop bench with blacks two weeks after the city of Johannesburg in South Africa allowed blacks to travel on 'whites-only' buses in February, 1990.

That was one of the things that worried me — to be raised to the position of a demi-god — because then you are no longer a human being. I wanted to be known as Mandela, a man with weaknesses, some of which are fundamental, and a man who is committed, but, nevertheless, sometimes fails to live up to expectations.

On 2 February 1990, President F. W. de Klerk reversed the ban on the ANC and other anti-apartheid organisations. When Mandela was released, the two worked hand-in-hand to ensure a smooth transition into democracy, their efforts earning them both the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

I have never cared very much for personal prizes. A man does not become a freedom fighter in the hope of winning awards, but when I was notified that I had won the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize jointly with Mr de Klerk, I was deeply moved. The Nobel Peace Prize had a special meaning to me because of its involvement with South African history.... The award was a tribute to all South Africans and especially to those who fought in the struggle; I would accept it on their behalf.

It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.

As a leader...I have always endeavored to listen to what each and every person in a discussion had to say before venturing my own opinion. Oftentimes, my own opinion will simply represent a consensus of what I heard in the discussion. I always remember the axiom: a leader...is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.

As I have said, the first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself... Great peacemakers are all people of integrity, of honesty, but humility.

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, white and black. I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed. A man who takes away another man's freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else's freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.

I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk has not ended.

Happy Birthday Tata, you will always have a special place in our hearts.

All photos found on the internet.


  1. Happy Birthday, indeed! I hope we won't be saying tata to Tata anytime soon. What's Winnie up to these days?

  2. Wow, this put tears to my eyes - in a good way.

  3. tihs is incredibly relevant and so moving a tribute to a great man. love it

  4. Azurah,
    Thank you for such a moving reminder of what can be accomplished through love, determination, and faith in mankind. Mandela is truly a remarkable man.

  5. Happy birthday indeed. and I Love that "fundamentally I am an optimist" AWESOME.

  6. Thank you for sharing this :)

  7. Thank you for all your comments. What really strikes me as remarkable about this man is that he was treated like an animal... in Prison, while other non-black in-mates received a quarter loaf of bread and he received none. He wasn't even allowed to have bread or salt with his meal. While other inmates wore full-length trousers, socks and shoes, he was only allowed to wear cut-offs until his knees with no socks or shoes, even in winter. Yet when he was released, he chose no retaliation or retribution against his captors. He didn't avenge all the years of torture he went through even though it would have been entirely justified. Instead he chose to work with his one-time enemies. And he was determined to build a new South Africa for all... not just the Blacks. He included everyone, even the very people who had him incarcerated in the first place.

    There certainly aren't many people like him today... to the detriment of the world at large. And sadly, none of coming generations have displayed an ounce of the character that he has. And that is why he is such a great person.

  8. I've been going through a really long phase of being disgusted with humanity lately. This post about Nelson Mandela was very touching, and I can't help but wish I was more humble like him.

  9. Michi - I know what you mean about being disgusted with humanity... and its true, he's a very inspiring man, it's heart-warming :)