The “Breaking News” came across the screen, “Mandela Dead at 95.” This is not the final hero of my generation to pass, but it is getting close and I wonder if we will ever see heroes like them again.
A victor after an imprisonment of 27 years that would have broken most of us, Nelson Mandela was the personification of hope in the face of isolation, faith in the face of desolation, strength in the face of humiliation, determination in the face of degradation, and humility in the face of adulation. In truth, the analogies would be endless.
Yes indeed a true victor! Although there are many heroes, both black and white, African and International in the war against the Colonial Caucasian-European inflicted Apartheid on the true citizens of South Africa, Mandela was the embodiment of absolute right against absolute wrong. Apartheid was an absolute wrong that most of the world, including our own freedom flouting American nation, not only ignored but condoned for years. Yes, our own American Congress did not pass the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act until 1986, almost four decades after the minority all-white government of South Africa enacted it in 1948 and 100 years after our own American Civil War officially ended slavery. Of course, officially yes but in reality no, as a form of America’s own apartheid existed long into the 20th Century with back-of-the-bus seating, whites-only bathrooms and lunch counters, African-American voter impediments, and segregated public school buildings.
Then President Ronald Reagan vetoed the bill, but was over-ridden by Congress despite overtures to and back room negotiations with his own Republican majority party. Four years later, in part thanks to America’s official condemnation of Apartheid, Mandela finally breathed the air of freedom when he was released from the imprisonment imposed upon him since 1962.
Mandela’s imprisonment was the same year another of my generation’s heroes first emerged as a leader of the American Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King, Jr. I wonder what Mandela must have been thinking in 1963, only a year deep into his life sentence, when I am sure word was somehow passed to him by his supporters of MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Mandela’s dream of freedom would not be realized until 26 years after MLK’s speech and his dream of freedom for his fellow true South Africans would still take another four years, when in 1994 he was elected President of South Africa. Instead of seeking retribution, he called for reconciliation. The fact is, in the plainest terms, that he did not treat the oppressive whites that suppressed and abused like the same slaves they had treated him and his native South Africans. South Africa is no more perfect than any other nation on earth, but it is now truly democratic with every citizen free with equal rights, whether black or white.
Thankfully, Mandela did not suffer the fate of other civil rights, humanitarian and peace advocate heroes of my generation like JFK, MLK, RFK, Al Lowenstein and Harvey Milk, among too many others who all died at the hand of an assassin. Mandela survived and led his people to freedom and we all had the privilege to witness it happen in our lifetime.
In South Africa he was referred to by the people he led out of suppression as Tata, meaning Father as he was considered the Father of the finally truly free nation of South Africa. Sound familiar? Gandhi was also called by all of India Father…Bapu! Yes, we have lost a hero that I believe is the likes of Gandhi. Godspeed Mr. Mandela!
The opinions expressed by Mr. Harrington are his own and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the ownership or editorial staff of Hamptons Online, LLC or Hamptons.com.