Eleven Mandela Moments

Mandela It´s been several days since Nelson Mandela died, and the tributes, analyses and discussions continue.

I spoke on Saturday with former Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, who said that people are mixing grief with celebration in Mandela´s homeland of South Africa.

Today, at the presentation of Chile´s annual report on human rights, Director Lorena Fries took a moment to honor Mandela and the work he did throughout his life to advance the cause.

I´ve been thinking about Mandela moments myself for a couple of a reasons.

The first is that a series of minutes show many of the man´s different sides.

The second is that, in fact, we live minute to minute, and that the accumulation of these discrete instances are indeed what makes up a life.

Here are 11 points in Mandela´s life that have stayed with me during the nearly 30 years that I have learned from him and the sources of information from where they came.

I. From Boy to Man

Mandela was circumcised at age 16, marking his transition from boyhood to becoming a man. He describes the experience in Long Walk to Freedom, talking in typical fashion about how he felt other young men responded more promptly than he did:

I looked down and saw a perfect cut, clean and round like a ring. But I felt ashamed because the other boys seemed much stronger and firmer than I had been; they had called out more promptly than I had. I was distressed that I had been disabled, however briefly, by the pain, and I did my best to hide my agony. A boy may cry; a man conceals his pain.

I had now taken the essential step in the life of every Xhosa man. Now I might marry, set up my own home and plough my own field. I could now be admitted to the councils of the com­munity; my words would be taken seriously.

II. Young Firebrand

Mandela has a section in Long Walk to Freedom in which he talks about telling Chief Albert Luthuli, then the president of the African National Congress, that he is afraid to confront the government.

I´m afraid to confront the government, Luthuli replies to the then-leader of the ANC Youth´s wing. I resign. You are now head of the ANC.

Mandela backed down.

III. Implacable and Unbroken Apartheid Opponent

Mandela appeared in full cultural garb for his closing statement at the Rivonia trial, at the end of which he and the other defendants were sentenced to life in prison.

He ended with the following words, which he repeated after his release in 1990, 27 years later:

“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.”

IV. Responding to Surprise Attacks.

In 1991 Mandela and the ANC engaged in negotiations with F.W. deKlerk´s National Party. In a speech deKlerk attacked the ANC. Mandela strode to the front of the World Trade Center and responded in icy tones.

I said I would like to raise a matter of national importance, and I am happy you have given me the opportunity to do so. I am gravely concerned about the behaviour of Mr. de Klerk today. He has launched an attack on the African National Congress, and in doing so he has been less than frank. Even the head of an illegitimate, discredited, minority regime as his, has certain moral standards to uphold. He has no excuse, because he is a representative of a discredited regime, not to uphold moral standards.

The members of the Government persuaded us to allow them to speak last. They were very keen to say the last word here. It is now clear why they did so. And he has abused his position because he hoped that I would not reply. He was completely mistaken. I am replying now.

V. Enduring Personal Pain

In 1992, after his release from prison and before his election as South Africa’s president, Nelson Mandela announced that he and his wife Winnie Mandela were separating.

It was a remarkably public and poignant moment that concluded with Mandela’s saying, “Ladies and gentlemen – I hope you will appreciate how painful this is to me. And I would appreciate it if we could have no questions,” before walking stiffly out of the room.

VI. Pleading for Peace in the Face of Violence

Mandela took to national television in 1993 after charismatic and much-loved Communist leader Chris Hani was killed. His comments included the following:

“Tonight I am reaching out to every single South African, black and white, from the very depths of my being. A white man, full of prejudice and hate, came to our country and committed a deed so foul that our whole nation now teeters on the brink of disaster. A white woman, of Afrikaner origin, risked her life so that we may know, and bring to justice, this assassin. The cold-blooded murder of Chris Hani has sent shock waves throughout the country and the world. … Now is the time for all South Africans to stand together against those who, from any quarter, wish to destroy what Chris Hani gave his life for – the freedom of all of us.”

VII. On the Verge of Victory

Mandela entered FNB Stadium in Johannesburg shortly before the elections in April 1994 that would see him complete the journey from prisoner to president. The following song greeted him. The words mean, “Nelson Mandela, he brings us peace.” For those who want to see more, go to Lee Hirsch´s impressive film, Amandla: A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony.

VIII. Articulating the Hopes of a Nation

Mandela delivered his inaugural address in a blue three-piece suit shortly after winning the presidency and danced his trademark dance afterward.

He concluded his address with the following words:

We are both humbled and elevated by the honour and privilege that you, the people of South Africa, have bestowed on us, as the first President of a united, democratic, non-racial and non-sexist South Africa, to lead our country out of the valley of darkness.

We understand it still that there is no easy road to freedom.

We know it well that none of us acting alone can achieve success.

We must therefore act together as a united people, for national reconciliation, for nation building, for the birth of a new world.

Let there be justice for all.

Let there be peace for all.

Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all.

Let each know that for each the body, the mind and the soul have been freed to fulfill themselves.

Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world.

Let freedom reign.

The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement!

God bless Africa!

Thank you.

IX. Embracing the Symbol of the Former Enemy

As part of its reintegration into the world´s sporting scene, South Africa hosted the 1995 World Cup. The home team won a dramatic 15-12 overtime victory against the vaunted All Blacks of New Zealand. Mandela donned the green Sprinbok jersey that previously had been the symbol for black South Africans of the oppressive apartheid regime.

His handshake with Springbok captain Francois Pienaar, the sicon of French Hugenots, is an iconic image to this day.

X. Disarming Sense of Humor

This is an excerpt from a 1999 New York Times article that noted that Mandela called some of the opposition ¨Mickey Mouse parties”:

`After the ”Mickey Mouse” crack, one opposition leader, Tony Leon, shot back that Mr. Mandela was ”running a Goofy Government” that had failed to deliver services.

A few weeks later, Mr. Mandela was visiting a friend in the hospital when he heard that Mr. Leon was also there, recovering from heart bypass surgery.

He approached Mr. Leon’s bed from behind the curtains. ”Mickey Mouse,” he called out in a deep voice, ”this is Goofy come to see you.”`

XI. Final Major Public Appearance

A beaming Mandela, then in his early 90s, made a dramatic appearance at the 2010 World Cup that South Africa also hosted. It was his last major public appearance.


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