We say thank you and goodbye to a very great man!
Think back to all the American presidents you have lived and worked under; how many of them were joyful men? Maybe Bill Clinton in his better years, or JFK, and perhaps Ronald Reagan? Fewer than the fingers on your right hand. Yet, should a leader not be joyful? I do believe that freedom is a quality of mind, a quality of heart and a quality of soul; it is the essence of what we call greatness and for those who have it none can take it away. Mandela’s life goes a long way to prove my point.
He was essentially a joyful man, yet there was not much in his hard life to make him so. He spent all of twenty-seven years in prison where he slept on a thin mat on a stone floor. Those years were filled with hardship, with icy nights in the winter and sweltering summer days, with bad food and hard labor yet at all times he remained upbeat and positive. In the early years his wife was rarely allowed to visit him, and he was never allowed to see his children. She was bitter but he was never bitter.
He was sentenced in 1964 to life imprisonment for sabotage and placed on Robben Island off the Cape of Good Hope. This was ironic, for at that time hope was foreign to his situation. In the early years his achievements were small, but they were always there. He cultivated good relations with the prison guards, and was rewarded by having his allocation of sugar for his coffee increased to two teaspoons – blacks were normally allowed only one. It was a small, but important victory in overcoming the circumstances of his existence.
Later on, his prison life was punctuated by other small victories, only because he was such a man of good will and none could hate him. He succeeded in getting the grueling slave labor abolished for all blacks in the limestone quarry, but then regretted it because he was getting fat! So he persuaded the prison authorities to let him play tennis.
Finally, he was transferred to a lighter prison on the mainland and towards the end of that phase off his life he was given a small cottage with a garden and a pool which he referred to as his gilded cage. He was always aware that his freedom – he could eat, swim, play tennis when he chose and even see his wife – was but an illusion. It was a measure of independence, but it fell far short of freedom.
Time marches on, something we can count on, and in some countries, in some times, the greater good reasserts itself. He was invited to lead the country’s passage to majority rule. There were many secret meetings, and at these meetings he was treated with honor and respect. Finally came the meeting with President P.W. Botha on July 5, 1989.
While Mandela never lost his heart, never lost his intelligence, certain domestic skills had fallen by the wayside while he was in prison. Maybe, as a member of an “inferior” class, he didn’t have them in the first place or rightly thought them unimportant. On that historic day he had needed some help to knot his tie and tie his shoelaces. What of it, he had lived over twenty years in prison slip slops and a T-shirt.
In the end they did him proud and Mandela entered the president’s office looking like, well, looking like the next president, which is what he was to become. Still in no way resentful of what had been done to him, he accepted the challenge to lead the South Africa he loved and his race, out of the morass and up into the stars.
“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”
“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.”
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”