I was only six years old when Nelson Mandela was elected President of South Africa. I had no conception of politics. I only knew, at that time, the fear that reigned in South Africa. As we approached the transition to a democracy, uncertainty crept in. And even though I had no idea what the fear was about, it is strange how very clearly I recall, nineteen years later, all of a sudden not being allowed to play outside as late as I always had. The kitchen cupboards filled with canned food, the feeling that everything was set to flee at a moment’s notice.
Strange how easily we human beings do that, is it not? How easily we let fear overcome love and trust. How even a six year old with no idea of politics knows somehow that it is time to be afraid now.
I grew up, along with this fledgling democracy. And as I grew, I learned. For the first time, the context within which that fear had taken place became clear – I realized exactly what South Africans had been perpetrating against fellow South Africans for decades. And the more I learned, the more in awe I was of Nelson Mandela.
I was – and always will be – in awe of Madiba because he epitomized mankind’s greatest hope: That love really can conquer all. That the dark shadows of fear can be chased away by the light of love, hope can be sparked and flamed by sacrifice and courage, and ignorance must eventually give way to understanding.
I don’t want to cheapen Madiba’s legacy by pretending that we, as a nation, don’t still have a lot of work to do. Because as far as we have come, a lot remains to be done in order to achieve true freedom for all, prime amongst which is the reduction of poverty and inequality.
I do, however want to take a moment to reflect on an amazing person and his life story, and say, from the bottom of my heart: Thank you, Madiba. Thank you for the integrity, kindness and patience. Thank you for the tremendous personal sacrifice that you made in order to lead South Africa. And most importantly, thank you for that very powerful reminder that “love comes more naturally to the human heart.”
Whatever challenges remain to be overcome in my own life, in South Africa, and by mankind in general – let us walk our long roads with full hearts, as you taught us.