What a remarkable life, and to live to be 95 after all he had been through, I thought when I saw the news on about Nelson Mandela’s passing away on CNN in the lobby of our building yesterday. The taxi driver last night told me the entire day on National Public Radio (NPR) was dedicated to Mr Mandela.
I remember being a student in Stellenbosch in 1985 with the country in really bad shape : violent protests in cities and towns were going on across the country. In then-president minister PW Botha’s famous Rubicon speech, he refused to release Mandela from prison. (That happened five years later, in 1990 under pres.FW de Klerk. The ruling National Party had tried to create designated homelands inside South Africa where black South Africans were expected to exercise their political rights, but that had failed). The political activists on campus told us we would have a democratic election in seven years. They were not off by much, since that happened 9 years later in April 1994. As the election took place, I watched the long lines of people waiting to vote. I was not upset or angry, but emotional and entirely not sure what to think. It was a pivotal and watershed moment in the country’s history. For me, looking back now, apartheid was not only about oppressing black people. It was about brainwashing the privileged (me) into not questioning authority, and about doing one’s duty and serving one’s country.
But how far to other people, very different from oneself, does that duty extend, and what is the concept of country in one’s head? To this day here in the USA there are people that have a very hard time accepting Mr Obama as president, and accepting the concept of a rainbow nation where people of all colors live together in peace and harmony.