Remembering Nelson Mandela

Mandela 1Mandela 2

The picture is still very vivid in my mind. I was in New Haven, Connecticut, watching that piece of history unfold on television that morning of February 11, 1990 when Nelson Mandela walked out of prison, a free man after 27 years. I saw him as he walked, hand in hand with his then wife, Winnie Mandela. I saw the crowd that gathered to receive him.

I cry very easily, and I was crying then. I am sure there were many tears streaming down many faces in that crowd. I also remember the speech he gave at the rally in Cape Town on that day. He said, “Our struggle has reached a decisive moment. We call on our people to seize this moment so that the process towards democracy is rapid and uninterrupted. We have waited too long for our freedom. We can no longer wait. Now is the time to intensify the struggle on all fronts. To relax our efforts now would be a mistake which generations to come will not be able to forgive. The sight of freedom looming on the horizon should encourage us to redouble our efforts”.

(That voice had never been heard in the past 27 years, nor had his picture been seen – both had been forbidden by the oppressors hoping to wipe out his memory from the face of the earth).

Watching all that on television in New Haven, I wished I was in Cape Town, or anywhere closer than Connecticut – anywhere on African soil. I was choking with emotion.

I grew up in Tanzania during the years of struggle against colonialism and after independence, perhaps no African country pushed for the dismantling of colonialism throughout the continent more than Tanzania. But, every form of colonialism paled in comparison to apartheid. The struggle in South Africa became our struggle in Tanzania – after all, the African National Congress (ANC) was based in Dar-es-Salaam.

When I arrived in New Haven, Nelson Mandela was still in prison though F.W  de Klerk had announced plans to set him free. There was heated debate on the international scene concerning the sanctions that had been imposed on the apartheid regime by the United Nations. Some in the U.S. Congress too were pushing for lifting the sanctions on the grounds of de Klerk’s promise.

South Africa, along with most African nations were opposed to lifting of sanctions until tangible actions were seen. I joined the debate publicly when I wrote an article in the New Haven Register against lifting sanctions. While the main argument was that sanctions were hurting the Black people of South Africa rather than the apartheid regime, my argument in the paper was that people who did not own any material possessions had nothing to lose with the sanctions.

Like millions of world citizens I watched South Africa emerge from apartheid to a multi-racial democracy under the leadership of Nelson Mandela. We witnessed a society that was able to avoid the inevitable cycle of retribution and revenge and chose forgiveness and reconciliation under the leadership of Nelson Mandela.

To me, that fact is a miracle. It is the highest ideal of humanity. To me, Nelson Mandela was proof that there is decency in human beings even in the darkest moments.

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