That Is Man

Nelson Mandela would celebrate his 95th birthday next month (July), God willing he survives the physical challenges that he has been experiencing in recent years, that necessitated that he be admitted again to a South African hospital this month.

Madiba, (his Xhosa name) in my opinion, is the personification of the term man. An uncompromising activist against the brutal apartheid regime in his homeland, South Africa. Nelson Mandela sacrificed the prime years of his life whilst involved in the struggle to free his people from the yoke of prejudice and oppression.

Nelson Mandela is no doubt a living legend. His personal odyssey is as enduring as it is admirable, and his lifetime achievements have been proudly recorded in the pages of his nation’s history books.

Mr. Mandela is recognised without challenge, from most quarters, as a man who enjoys the highest and most widespread level of respect and admiration on our planet today.

But the qualities that I admire the most about Mr. Mandela, are not necessarily his deserved ascension to Nobel Laureate status in 1993, winning the Peace prize, or even the fact that he was elected the first black President of South Africa in 1994. In my mind, there are three other examples of his life that separates him from other mortals.

One experience is visual, and the other two are acts of profound statesmanship, that in my estimation, would elevate Nelson Mandela to the very top of the all time list of accomplished leaders of men.

The first Mandela effect on me, occurred in 1990, when I joined millions of people worldwide to watch a Television broadcast that must be considered to be one of the most momentous visual events of the twentieth century.

The transmitted images depicted a man walking out of prison. But not just any man, but a special person, a man amongst men who with his first few steps towards freedom, signaled the culmination of an unmatched triumph of determination, and individual willpower over a retrograde system of separatist government.

This emotion challenging program showed an unshackled Nelson Mandela, once more a free man, emerging from state captivity, after 27 years as a prisoner of conscience in his own country.

When Nelson Mandela exited the South African prison compound that day, the cameras re-introduced us to a man who had aged visibly. His face was drawn and weathered from the harsh conditions he had experienced during his over a quarter of a century of captivity on Robbens Island, and two other prisons.

Jails that the South African apartheid regime had sent him to in 1962, to serve out a life sentence of hard labour, based on flimsy trumped up charges that accused him of carrying out acts of sabotage, and conspiracy against the state of South Africa.

As Mandela strode purposefully towards the welcoming arms of family members and well wishers, his gait although erect was recognisably slower. But he still managed to display an air of dignity and poise. His body language was not indicative of a broken man, but of one whose spirit had survived a personal nightmare.

We watched a veritable giant walk amongst pygmies. That scene, that walk of triumph, that final validation of right over wrong, would forever be burnished into a special compartment of my brain.

The second Mandela effect on my psyche, was his outright refusal, after serving some 20 years of his eventual 27 year term of imprisonment, to be released conditionally.

He was informed by the Apartheid prison authorities, “Mr. Mandela, you have proven your point, you have done more for your country than anyone else in history has, you deserve to spend your remaining years enjoying a life of comfort and relaxation with your wife and children on the outside.”

“Simply sign this piece of paper indicating that you would ‘behave yourself’, and not give the state anymore headaches in the future, and you would be released from imprisonment forthwith”.

History records, that Mr. Mandela’s response to this offer of leniency with strings attached, was to ask his jailers to escort him back to his cell, without further ado.

The third Mandela effect was Mr. Mandela insistence, that his prison warder, the man who supervised his imprisonment on Robben Island, be invited to his swearing in ceremony as President of South Africa.

Mr. Mandela insisted that his former jailer was to be seated in the front row seats for the ceremony at hand. This thought process is evident of a visionary soul who had disassociated himself from personal considerations, and had comprehended the totality of the bigger picture called life.

I firmly believe that Nelson Mandela’s legacy to the world at large, would be the lesson, that the journey of life is comprised of not one, but numerous interwoven pathways. He clearly believed that a person should fight long and hard with an unshakable conviction to accomplish their lifetime objectives, as he had done.

But at the point of realising one’s dream, he also understood that we must at least attempt to take a step back to re-assess where we are at that given point of the journey, and then, be big enough to transcend a contemporary situation, like finding the capacity within our hearts to make the decision to forgive an old enemy.

Roger Byer

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