|White House photo of Michelle Obama and Mandela|
I must come out of the shadows to pay tribute to a man I never met: Madiba Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.
Upon his death, I talked to whites from South Africa who had met him. They said he was a towering figure who they revered because of his Christian qualities and his decision to not ostracize or retaliate against those who harmed him. They said Mandela helped South Africa lessen the economic slavery of its indigenous population. Mandela was multi-faceted in his humanity, intelligence, and commitment to freedom. Synonymous with struggle, hard work, forgiveness, planning, and moral leadership, Mandela leaves a legacy of a tenacious, spirited elder.
Although praised in death, he was considered dangerous by the U.S. government which placed him on a terrorist watch list until he was 90 years old. Mandela, perhaps, was a 20/21st century Denmark Vesey who became a freedom fighter icon after his release from prison. His "hero" brand was fueled by the entertainment industry. His knowledge of the law, perhaps, and his savvy political posturing turned him into a modern-day saint. After spending 27 years as a prisoner, he spent five years as South Africa's president and another 14 years being remembered.
One wonders whether Osama bin Laden would have been deemed Mandela-like if he had lived another 40 years. One also wonders what will happened to Mandela's beloved motherland, rich in resources and poor people, invaded by China and other countries in the guise of future development. Ravaged by AIDS and poverty, his people are dancing in colorful garbs of remembrance now, but they are in need of a new protector.
The world has been preparing for Mandela's exit from his earthly body for months, and his fatherly messianic status remains unabated, continuing through his many foundations. Some say that Mandela's manner of reconciliation was predicated on survival techniques while others say he forgave whites who profited with the adoption of a new constitution under his rule which gave them land rights and blacks few baubles other than political office. Too often blacks appear as figureheads while whites maintain all the power the land and natural resources bear. Mandela, however, raised the level of human consciousness in a world still divided by color, race, and class.
May Madiba now rest in peace while we continue the example he set.