I grew up in South Africa during Apartheid, learning–from our white community–that there was a terrorist in jail, called Mandela.
I also grew up hearing stories from my wonderful Nanny, Mabel, about a man of passion and vision for our country who was in jail, called Mandela.
“Is that what a terrorist is?” I wondered.
Mabel instilled in me an African heart, as she taught me many African songs and what she and many saw as a future for our country inspired by this man they knew had a destined path that they should all follow.
“Madiba” as he was known, was to become one of the greatest men in the world, a man who would leave his mark.
As a child he said “I hoped and vowed then, that among the treasures that life might offer me, would be the opportunity to serve my people and make my own humble contribution to the freedom struggle.” His vow became his dream that he spent his life fighting for, and for that dream, Nelson Mandela spent 28 years in prison.
I stood outside of his cell in 1999 and could feel that charisma that was his, despite the diminutive size and sparseness of his cell where he lived for so many years.
All of the guides running the tours were once political prisoners. Our guide, Patrick, showed us around, reflecting the same gentleness and humility that their leader had shown in the many years he spent among them.
When asked how Patrick could be so forgiving, his answer, “One will never right a wrong with another wrong. We were taught by Madiba that to make it all right now is to just tell the story, so others will know, and to let it go for our own and our countries inner peace.”
In 1998 I was privileged to be several rows away from Mr. Nelson Mandela as he became the 3rd person in history to be awarded an Honorary Doctorate not in a Commencement ceremony. George Washington was the first. I remember every moment of that magical experience as the Harvard Choir and the African choir the Kuumba Singers sang in unison and harmony all 3 versions of the South African National Anthem. That was so significant and symbolized what Mr Mandela had strived for. A unified country for all the peoples of South Africa. Towards the ceremony’s end, the ancient bells of Harvard pealed out adding to this significant and magical time.
One regret I have from that day was I did not attempt to approach him as he told a story of a little girl who was “cheeky enough” to have asked to be invited into his home for tea. I was “Cheeky enough” to ask to shake his hand but I didn’t. “Fear is temporary, regret is permanent,” as I always say.
Nelson Mandela has always been my hero, and on every Survivor Show application, I put him down as such. I have always tried to follow my dreams and to make a difference where I can and if he could do that for his entire life despite all the hardships, I could do it in a life that is basically easy. Mr. Mandela once said, “It would be very egotistical of me to say how I would like to be remembered. I’d leave that entirely to South Africans.”
Mr. Mandela, in your humility you may never know the incredible impact you have made on millions.
We mourn your passing but celebrate your life. You will be remembered, and let us all do so by making a difference where we can. I try to follow his philosophy “Always try to inspire others to be greater than they think they can be.”
I challenge you to do the same.