It was past 23h on December 5, 2013. I was up creating a collage of the Pass It On Network launch with Jan Hively in Paris in November, vaguely watching late night news on Aljazeera when the flow was interrupted. President Jacob ZUMA was about to address the people of South Africa.
Madiba, the father of our nation, the man who orchestrated the first non-racial democratic government in South Africa in 1994, had passed away peacefully just after 20h at 95. As a White South African born in 1946 who grew up in the apartheid era, my emotions ran high as tribute after tribute came in from all over the world.
The overriding emotion I felt was, and always will feel, is, gratitude. Gratitude to this man who forever changed my way of viewing all humanity. It was in 1948 when the term “apartheid” was employed in the electoral campaign that brought the Nationalist Party to power in the then Union of South Africa. In my family we were taught to respect everyone. But the fact of the matter was that different people (different skin colors) played distinctly different roles and in the way society was structured, these rigid roles made up the unwritten code of social control and seemed natural. Stepping out of one’s role, on either side of the color bar, was just not done, or if it was, it created a scandal, prosecution and worse. The “natural” turned “unnatural”.
When I first arrived in France in 1977, every time I said I was from South Africa I found myself in a heated political discussion. My country was a pariah.
Yet the unwinding was already in progress. Even hardliner John Vorster (Prime Minister from 1966-1978) fought his last electoral campaign saying, “We must change or die.”
The world changed, the Berlin Wall fell with all the repercussions that triggered off, South Africa changed and we didn’t die.
I am in awe of the worldwide influence Nelson Mandela built and will continue to exercise as history remembers his acts and as Africa sees that a truly great leader is far more than the role he plays. He is an outstanding example in Africa of a President who voluntarily stepped down to leave others to rule.
After standing down, he did what elders do. He continued his life’s work in the background and fulfilled the role of an elder, a wise man to be consulted over major issues.
He showed everyone in South Africa that it was possible to go forward together.
The wave of tributes to all he stands for must make all South Africans ask themselves how they can live their daily lives to be worthy of his heritage.
While everyone will agree that South Africa faces major challenges in the future, I can’t think of any country in the world to which this doesn’t apply. We’re all living through incredible turmoil created by changing technology, demography, economics and climate change. South Africa can be grateful to have this role model. He set an incredibly high standard and to each and every South African the challenge is measure up to it.
Let me close with 10 inspirational quotes from Nelson Mandela:
1. If people can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.
2. 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.
3. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.
4. What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.
5. 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.
6. The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.
7. Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.
8. There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.
9. It always seems impossible until it is done.
10. 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.