The Herald Bulletin

December 10, 2013

Primus Mootry: Madiba: lessons from and farewell to a great citizen of the world


The Herald Bulletin

---- — Nelson Mandela was affectionately known by his black South African countrymen as “Tata” because his wisdom and dignified bearing endeared him to many of them as a father.

He was also identified by his Xhosa ancestral name, “Madiba.” In African culture, the ancestral name is of extreme importance. In the African view, ancestors are revered. They do not die as long as they are remembered.

And so, barely a week ago, Tata Madiba Nelson Mandela passed away at age 95. His legacy of struggle and triumph provide many important lessons for you and me, and for the world.

Among the many things he taught by his living example were forgiveness, patience, compassion, commitment to a brighter future, persistence, and respect for diversity and dignity in all human affairs.

By reason of his race, experience, the time and place of his birth and maturation, and eventual position of power, no one on this planet in the modern era even comes close to the powerful example of how men should treat others than Tata Madiba Mandela. Not the pope. Not the Dalai Lama. No president or head of state. No religious or civil rights leader. No one.

When he was released from prison, because of his persistent demand for respect (”call me Mr. Mandela!”), and his thoughtful and humorous treatment of his jailers, even they admired him. He did not merely serve time, he made time serve him.

He believed that one day his body would be free from his solitary prison cell, but his mind was always free. He refused to accept the behavior of a prisoner simply because he was behind bars.

He refused to hate his jailers because they were men simply doing what their superiors had told them to do. He befriended them. After all, were they not all in the same prison?

Again, modern history has not seen the likes of Nelson Mandela. I say this with confidence since I know that he, after 27 years of initial brutal imprisonment then emerging triumphant as the president of South Africa (and “Tata” to many of its black millions), with a nod of his head could have turned the streets of South Africa’s townships into rivers of blood.

Instead, he brought the perpetuaters and executioners of Apartheid’s racial hatred and brutality into court to confess their particular crimes against their black countrymen, then, on confession, set them unconditionally free. Such forgiveness is unprecedented in the annals of modern history and, as far as I know, ancient history as well.

The power of this act cannot be overstated. First, it won Mandela the ire and skepticism of various black factions in South Africa who wanted revenge. They had seen friends, neighbors, relatives — men, women, and children — degraded, brutalized, or murdered. How could Mandela set these vicious political, military and police authorities free?

Second, however, it powerfully introduced the idea of reconciliation and peaceful co-existence among South Africa’s white minority and its 10:1 black majority. Mandela wasn’t looking for revenge. He was looking to the economic future of the country and the potential for a better life for all its people, especially its children.

In short, though well on in years, Madiba understood that the future of South Africa as a democratic society had to be based in cooperation among blacks and whites. To this end, an important goal was the removal of extremely damaging economic sanctions belatedly imposed by the United States on Apartheid regimes. Further, he understood the world was watching.

Although South Africa today still suffers many problems, it arguably is a far better place than it was before Tata Madiba Nelson Mandela. A Marianne Williamson passage erroneously cited as part of his inaugural address nonetheless accurately sums up the ideas and actions Mandela gave us as throughout his long life:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ ... Your playing small does not serve the world. ... As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

And so, Madiba, thank you for your life, and thank you for the light you let shine upon a troubled world. May you long be remembered.

Have a nice day.

Anderson resident Primus Mootry is a retired school teacher. His column appears Wednesdays in The Herald Bulletin.