FAREWELL AND GOD BLESS NELSON ‘MADIBA’ MANDELA
Last Thursday, at approximately 8:50pm South African time, the great anti-apartheid activist and global humanitarian, Nelson Mandela died. He will lie in state for ten days until his burial in his home state, Qunu, on Sunday. By the time this column is published, it is expected that over 100 heads of state will have gathered for his memorial, including President Barack Obama, and three of his predecessors Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter.
While the world mourns Mr. Mandela, we, here in the Village of Hempstead, mourn him as well. We mourn him because he stood for justice and equality among all men; because he sacrificed that which few among us would have been willing to sacrifice—27 years of the prime of his life spent in a tiny prison cell—in the fight to ensure that his nation would one day be free of the shackles of apartheid; so that his black brothers and sisters could be rid of a brutal system of racial discrimination, that included pass cards, color coding, strict prohibitions about where they could live, work, worship and socialize (much like our own Jim Crow era); because he fought so that a black majority that exceeded more than 85% of the country’s population, could one day have equal opportunity to attend its finest schools, and yes, even to govern in the land of their birth.
Nelson Mandela made plain that as much as he fought for black and mixed-race South Africans, he also fought for the spiritual and humanitarian reclamation of his white sisters and brothers; so that they too could share, not only in the bounty of their nation, but that they could grow to look on their black, Asian and mixed-race brothers and sisters and see their humanity.
This, perhaps, is part of the reason Mr. Mandela is universally regarded: because he stood for the joint principles of justice and forgiveness.
I recall vividly the anti-apartheid struggle of the 80s and 90s and how much it resonated with African Americans and all-justice loving people; how the world joined in to exert pressure on companies that were doing business in apartheid-practicing South Africa; how other conscientious companies boycotted that nation, and how ultimately it was that growing international pressure, in concert with the organized movement of Mr. Mandela and the ANC Party, that broke the back of the monster that was apartheid.
I watched the television, with millions of others around the world, as Mr. Mandela and his then-wife Winnie, joined hands in their first public walk after his release from prison after nearly three decades. He was 71 years old, a far cry from the vigorous young man, and former boxer, who’d entered prison 27 years earlier. But in that walk it was clear that his confidence in the movement and in his country’s march towards democracy and reconciliation was undaunted. Greeted by thousands chanting his name, Nelson Mandela’s smile on that day shone bright enough to light all the hearts and places that had been darkened by the racist policies of apartheid.
Watching him, I and millions of others, had faith that South Africa would find its way. When he became the first black and first democratically elected president in that nation’s history four years later, our faith was reassured. Mr. Mandela served only one term before relinquishing office to others who he believed would be better equipped to handle the struggles of their day.
Since that time South Africa has seen its challenges, the majority of them the vestiges of the severe economic imbalance that had existed for generations. But I am reminded that the country’s democracy is still in its infancy, and in much the same way that our own nation continues to battle the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow and discrimination, it will take time for South Africa, Mr. Mandela’s great ‘Rainbow Nation,’ to bury the ghosts of apartheid.
Many South Africans have spoken of the loss of their nation’s spiritual father and moral conscience. President Obama, in tribute, declared that “We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. So it falls to us ….to strive for a future that is worthy of his sacrifice.” As we celebrate Mr. Mandela’s life I think of other lessons that are instructive for all of us, especially our youth: That an individual born in a remote South African village that had neither electricity nor running water, would one day become not only the father of a freedom and justice movement, but a Noble Laureate, the president of a country that had once imprisoned him, and a revered international leader; how the seemingly impossible can be made possible by the force of one’s conviction, dedication to his goal and commitment to the greater good.
For now we say ‘Goodbye and thank you Madiba. May God Bless and Keep You. Your legacy extends beyond the borders of South Africa, and the African continent. It is an irrevocable part of the global humanitarian struggle for freedom, justice and equality. All we who are living have been made better by the sacrifices paid by you, Oliver Tambo, Walter and Albertina Sisulu and all other members of the freedom struggle. Farewell.’ The flags in the Village will be flown at half-staff until Mr. Mandela’s burial.
To learn more about what is going on in the Village of Hempstead, including information about local organizations that serve youth and families, visit www.villageofhempstead.org. To report any non-emergency issues around the Village, remember to use the VillageLine at 516-478-6333.
Wayne J. Hall Sr.
Mayor of the Incorporated Village of Hempstead