Tonight I mourn the passing of Nelson Mandela. I caught the news of his death on BBC radio at about 5:00 p.m. E.S.T. I was on my way to pick up my children from school. On the ride home from school I asked my children what they knew about Nelson Mandela. My 15 year-old son summarized it as “Nelson Mandela ended racial segregation in South Africa even after being imprisoned for 20 something years.” I went on to share a lot about Nelson Mandela’s life. I also brought to my children’s attention the name of F. W. de Klerk, the last apartheid-era South African President who released Mandela in 1990 after 27 years of imprisonment. Mandela and de Klerk entered into negotiations and together abolished apartheid. F.W. de Klerk and Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.
Part of what my son shared in his comment was so important. That Mandela, even after being imprisoned for so many years would show no bitterness towards his captors his government, would be able forgive, and would be able to lead his country through his own example into a new era.
The first all-race presidential election in South Africa was scheduled for April 27th 1994. Nelson Mandela was one of the candidates. A white extremist right-wing group who opposed desegregation started a bombing campaign with the hopes of destabilizing the election process. There were many bombing incidents leading up to Election Day, but one that made international news was the bombing of Johannesburg Airport on April 27th. This bombing injured 16 people and caused massive structural damage to a section of the airport.
On April 27 of 1994 I was a busy career woman planning a business trip to Johannesburg. We had just heard the news of the Johannesburg Airport bombing and were debating whether it was safe or not to fly to South Africa given the circumstances. An executive decision was made and we decided to make the trip. I landed in Johannesburg on April 28th. I got to see the shattered glass walls and the damage caused at the airport. But this image of destruction quickly faded and was overpowered by the euphoria of Nelson Mandela’s Presidential victory. To this day I feel a sense of excitement that I stepped on South African soil and shared such a momentous time of their history. This is my little shared experience with Mandela.
Nelson Mandela left us an amazing legacy. Tonight I leave you with some of my son’s favorite Mandela quotes.
“It always seems impossible until it’s done”.
“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies”.
“Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again”.
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers the fear”.
And another quote very appropriate for this evening that my daughter emailed to me:
“Death is something inevitable. When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort and that is, therefore, why I will sleep for the eternity.” – Nelson Mandela