To celebrate 20 years since Nelson Mandela walked out of Victor Verster Prison on February 11, 1990, head held high, dignity intact, I share 5 reasons why Madiba is my hero
1 Nelson Mandela is the single most powerful manifestation of the power of forgiveness I have ever seen. As a mere mortal, I am sometimes consumed by my own righteousness, choosing to be right over being happy. There’s a saying in my mother tongue, Ndebele from Zimbabwe, which loosely translates into holding a grudge against someone is tantamount to tying your heart in a knot: U ku bophel’ umuntu inhliziyo. The heart is a fragile and vital organ, just imagine for a minute tying it in a knot out of anger at another person – not good. When Mandela walked out of prison, he did not dwell on the past. He walked out and went on to live a formidable, positive life. To forgive is one of the most powerful things we can do, Mandela is living proof of that.
2 Mandela took his prison number – 46664 - and made it a symbol of hope in the fight against HIV/Aids. Having personally experienced the loss of a loved one to this pandemic when his son Makgatho died of Aids, Mandela spoke out publicly about a very personal loss, pleading: “Let us give publicity to HIV/Aids and not hide it”.
3 By his own example, Mandela has taught me about the importance of living your life with respect for the greater good. He never used being locked up as an excuse to lose touch with the cause or his values. Even when his captors thought he would be so desperate for freedom that he would betray the African National Congress (ANC), Mandela proved them wrong and instead skillfully negotiated the terms of his own release and the end of apartheid in South Africa. He refused to separate his individual liberty from that of his fellow South Africans – black, white and other.
4 Mandela has been and continues to be a stellar example of African leadership. U lo Buntu. Honored by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation in 2007 as an Honorary Laureate of the Mo Ibrahim Prize which celebrates excellence in African leadership, Mandela has been hailed as “...the greatest and most courageous leader of our generation”.
5 Were I locked up tomorrow for my beliefs or simply defending my human rights, I don’t know that I could maintain my sanity let alone my focus. What I do know for sure is that Nelson Mandela is proof positive that the human spirit is fiercely resilient in the face of adversity. My own capacity to survive and even thrive when faced with a challenge has not been tested to the extent that Mandela’s clearly was for 27 years. However, the single most important lesson that I have learned from Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela is that I am always FREE. No one and nothing can ever take away my freedom. As he says:
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains,
but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. “
VIVA MANDELA, VIVA!