(210) 558.5917 jharris@gracepoint.org

Thoughts on Nelson Mandela

I wore a free Mandela T-shirt in the 80’s like thousands of college age idealists only faintly understanding Apartheid (apartness in Afrikaans) and the wickedness of the South African regime.

In the 90’s, I would walk the alley’s of Soweto only smelling and sensing the atrocities of a policy that diminished humans to animal like status; but I was a stranger in a strange land only able to absorb the surface of the soul deep issues of racism, cultural racism and oppression.

At the age of 44, Mandela stood before the court that would banish him for 27 years to hard labor on Robben Island and he said, “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for, and to see realized. But my Lord, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”- Mandela’s defense statement during the Rivonia Trial, 1964.

At the passing of Nelson Mandela I know I cannot grasp what it is to be a black man tortured, deprived, hated for the color of my skin and yet when given the opportunity to take power choose to forgive and embrace my enemies as partners.  Nelson Mandela was a prisoner who altered the course of human history.  From a cell his words, his life and his actions affected and affect us all.

His words remain and they are haunting as if he still speaks by saying, “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.” – 90th birthday celebration of Walter Sisulu, Walter Sisulu Hall, Johannesburg, 18 May 2002

How do we respond?