A Giant of a Man – Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela

A few months back, having just attended the Light Show at the Hayward Gallery, while walking back to Waterloo Station, I stopped at the iconic bust of Nelson Mandela, known affectionately by his Xhosa tribe, and most other South Africans, as Madiba.

I stopped to consider the perfect marriage of message and medium as I thought about the impact that his rebirth into a society he’d fought his life to transform brought, and unavoidably too, the potential outcomes for his passing.

I was sixteen when he was released amid escalating civil strife (lots of bomb scares, martial law, forced conscription etc.) and a strange transformation began throughout the country.

Previously vehement opposers, suddenly bowed their heads and acknowledged the power of Madiba’s message. We went from having a barrage of anti propaganda, to an avalanche of pro support. The royal prince from the line of Thembu had finally been heard.

“First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Being previously ambivalent, I watched unmoved as the announcement about his release was broadcast. I didn’t want to believe that it would turn the country into a bloodbath. I hadn’t voted for any of the previous parties, I hadn’t the chance to express my freedom loving inner activist, I was more focused on my teenage angst, weight loss, school, friends, boys, art and writing – in that order. What can I say? My priorities were skewed by hormones and the absence of confidence.

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. – Nelson Mandela

But when I first listened to this inspired, gravelly voiced giant speak, with his distinctive and highly recognizable Xhosa accent, I knew somehow that things would be alright, there was too much at stake for it to fail. As the transformation occurred with grace and conviction, I felt that he deserved his iconic status – respect for anyone that stands so firmly by their Truth and Integrity with absolute commitment.

Does anybody really think that they didn’t get what they had because they didn’t have the talent or the strength or the endurance or the commitment? – Nelson Mandela

The first time I voted was in the 1994 first democratic elections, I stood bemused and sun burning for almost six hours while listening to fear mongers trying to influence the voters around them with horror stories. It was a surreal experience being there while my younger siblings smoked secretly in the back garden – something I would rather have done at the time too. My step mother tried to convince me that voting for the National Party was sensible … AS IF that was what the country needed after everything else, martial law, and a lot of bombs going off in public places!

My Great Aunt was an immediate supporter of Madiba, as far as she was concerned, she wanted a fresh start, there were many of us that were tired of, and revolted by the old regime and of everyone on the entire planet, Nelson Mandela was the most inspiring choice. Over time, after lots of reading and observing, I realised that out of everyone I knew, she was right. I’ve never forgotten that penny-dropping moment, I never will.

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. – Nelson Mandela

It’s quite difficult to completely change your world view. Unless you have a major shift in your own paradigm and embrace it, you mightn’t ever understand this. But when you embrace transformation, you discover self-definition. And the abolishment of one regime in exchange for the opposite – discarding the beliefs of one – being suspicious about the beliefs of the other – and ultimately, questioning the very nature of Belief itself, is a transformation that enables one’s own internal evolution.

A good leader can engage in a debate frankly and thoroughly, knowing that at the end he and the other side must be closer, and thus emerge stronger. You don’t have that idea when you are arrogant, superficial, and uninformed. – Nelson  Mandela

When I read a Long Road to Freedom, I realized with clarity that the sacrifice of twenty-seven years is intensely immense. It meant that he was away from his family, his wife and children, grand children, home, village, tribe, everything familiar and being protected by people who could be jailed (or worse) by the oppressors, fighting the propaganda induced perception that might destabilize the entire reality-construct for every group of segregated South Africans and finding international support.

It’s an incredible story.

It gave the activists the light they needed, it gave the fence sitters like myself, something to think about and yes, it gave the haters something else to hate. It was powerful and I joined those of my countrymen under the umbrella of the rainbow nation, mustering hope and positivity as we exhaled in relief.

Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another.

Nelson Mandela was a great Captain at the helm of his country – for truly no leader could be more worthy of their mantle – public relations or not. There has never been a leader like him since he left office, and it doesn’t look very likely that another will follow any time soon. I wouldn’t wish immortality on anyone, but if I had a magic wand, I’d wish he could live forever because while he lives, his wisdom lives. When he dies, who will echo his beloved, gravelly voice of reason?

I dream of an Africa which is in peace with itself. – Nelson Mandela

All the quotes I’ve included, I personally believe them because of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. He is a shining example and a giant among men. He is the reason I question everything, retain idealistic standards in a cynical world and is a constant reminder of the impact that one individual with a purpose grounded in truth and integrity, can have on the world.

The world will be bleak without him.

Nkosi Sikilele Madiba, Ulale kakuhle. 

Currently the official story is he’s still alive – I read one article that said he was stable, another said he was critical, however a few people have already expressed their condolences – including Rihannaan Australian minister and a Dutch City Council.

1 Comment

  1. I wrote this in June when he got ill and never recovered. I’ve seen so many tributes, criticisms and thoughts about this giant of a man and I have to add my voice because of his utmost significance as a human being. He managed to bring down the most fascist, deceitful, inflexible, authoritarian government that would resort to doing anything to accomplish their objectives to the point of brainwashing decent, church going folk that somehow their behaviour was justified and appropriate. There could have been a bloodbath, but there wasn’t and although Nelson Mandela didn’t come out and solve the “crime problem”, he came out and gave a nation a brand new direction. It was never going to become Utopia overnight but it allowed everyone to come back into the light. It’s a pity that his successors in office have been so piss-poor, but that’s not his problem. We can only pray that over the decades, the wrongs and the consequences of all those wrongs… and the additional wrongs… and the consequences of those wrongs will balance out. I urge my fellow countrymen, set aside your political bias and focus instead on coming together as a unified nation. Repeating the atrocities of the past will repeat history. Democracy is flawed, but it’s the most free of all political ideologies because it gives each person a a voice, it enables people to come together and work on the problems, even if it’s that everyone refuses to pay etolls and they join together standing against it – that’s democracy. Thank you Tata, Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika.


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