Friday, December 06, 2013

Thoughts on Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela has been on my mind all day. Facebook has been full of tributes and quotes and so many of his words speak directly to my convictions. I guess the one that most impressed me is that he later said that when he finally walked out of prison, he knew that if he didn't leave anger, hatred, and bitterness behind him, he would still be in prison.
I cam across a curious post on Facebook that was headlined "Five Things You Should Know about Mandela," or something to that effect, and showed him in a cordial pose with Fidel Castro. Not surprising. I'm sure they met. But I thought the picture was inflammatory, with the headline, and the five things--not sure I can remember them all--were the reasons I admire the man. He was an activist, called a troublemaker (in fact I think that's the name in Afrikaans given him as an infant). It was, to my mind, one of his most admirable traits--he was active against a grossly unjust system, and he was willing to serve time in prison and even die. Once offered a pardon if he would discontinue his activities, he refused.
He was against racism, against poverty, for labor unions--why should such things be secret? They are no surprise to me at all. Nor is the fact that he wasn't particularly fond of America or George W. Bush, thought the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were examples of America's imperialism and by-products of Bush's greed for Middle Eastern oil. I've never completely banished the latter suspicion from my mind, in light of the missing WMDs, and I can see how other countries, with their own problems, see some of America's policies as imperialistic. I wonder why this particular site, one I usually admire, felt compelled to post this message.
Did you know he was on the list of America's "watched" people or whatever it's called until 2008, even though many United States singers and celebrities were a huge part of the 1980s campaign for his freedom, a campaign that may actually have been of some help in ultimately securing his 1989 freedom. I think "We are the people" came from that campaign and its public performances--the phrase was a favorite of Mandela's.
There have been a lot of attempts to compare Mandela to other leaders. I myself said he makes me think of Gandhi with his philosophy about love and forgiveness. I heard a national newsman say he wasn't FDR, and someone else said he didn't measure up to Martin Luther Kind. I'm a bit baffled by these attempts to measure him against some sort of human yardstick. He was who he was, a man born into a difficult society who decided to devote his life to improving the lives of his fellow black Afrikaners. Did he face an even tougher world than MLK? Highly possible. Was he as great as FDR? Who knows? They lived in different worlds and faced vastly different challenges. It's apples and oranges.
No need to compare. Nelson Mandela was a great man who fought the good fight, inspired many throughout the world, and will continue to inspire us. RIP.

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