Thursday, December 12, 2013

Nelson Mandela, R.I.P.

A remarkable man has left this world. This man,
an activist who achieved a stunning transformation
of his country after first achieving a stunning
transformation of himself, becoming the head of
his country's government and limiting his time
in that position to a short term when he could have
easily proclaimed himself leader for life, a man
who was imprisoned in a hellish prison but
forgave his persecutors and captors in what would
be his first step in his aforementioned transformations
of self and nation, truly left his land, his countrymen,
and this world all better places than they were when
he first appeared in them, was Nelson Mandela ---
who went from being a violent left-wing revolutionary
to a champion of freedom, peace, justice, and democratic

Born in South Africa, a nation riven with racial politics
and resultant demarcations and restraints, the latter
imposed on those who were not white, Mandela
involved himself in the struggle to gain civil rights
for blacks like himself and later Asians and other
non-white citizens of that country. He first thought
that the best way to achieve his goal was to join
with Marxist revolutionaries, and wage violent
confrontations with the Afrikaner government and
its supporters. The turning point for both Mandela
and South Africa was his more than a quarter century
imprisonment for his anti-apartheid activities, in
which he developed friendly relations with his captors,
even learning the Afrikaner language (the version of
Dutch spoken by many white South Africans; the nation
was founded by Dutch and British settlers) so that he
could have a better dialogue with them and understand
them better.

After his lengthy incarceration, Mandela rejected the
Marxist notions that he once embraced, eschewing the
ways of Cuban communist dictator Fidel Castro and
Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe, the latter having
instituted the forcible seizure of white farmer's lands
and killing many of them in the process in addition to
establishing a socialist state which begot a stagnant
economy, ruining the lives of all citizens of that woebetide
nation regardless of color. Mandela replaced these ideals
with those of his new heroes, Martin Luther King Jr. and
Mahatma Ghandi (who, by the way, began his activism
in South Africa, where he was a lawyer), practicing and
advocating nonviolence, understanding and forgiveness.

Your faithful Peasant thought at the time of Mandela's
achieving election to South Africa's highest office that
South Africa would be another all too familiar story of
an African nation having a bloody episode resulting in
the purging of all political opposition mixed with racial
cleansing. I have never been so delighted and grateful to
be proven wrong.

Others have, over the years, have made similar mistaken
assumptions about Mandela, and even now are reading
the man wrong. Many castigate him for what he was,
rather than seeing him for what he became. So many
see him where he was, not where he now is. And that
is a tragedy. Mandela is an example of how one can
change, how one can transform oneself, one's life, and
everyone around one when one commits oneself
wholeheartedly to the task.

When Mandela ascended to the position as head of the
South African government upon leading the changeover
from apartheid to a more democratic political system
which did not place any premium on the color of a South
African's skin, he realized that our freedom is inseparably
connected to that of others. He wrote, "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." This
should be the standard for all heads of state in all nations,
for all political activists of all stripes, and for all people.

Rest in Peace, Nelson Mandela. You leave behind a
world grateful for having had you in it for 95 incredible
years, and giving us an incredible legacy --- the triumph
of the human spirit over the darkness of oppression, and
the spreading of the light of hope and freedom to banish



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