Friday, December 06, 2013

Nelson Mandela

I am very sorry to hear of the death of Nelson Mandela.  He was a hero of mine, and I do not use that term about many people.

In the 1980s I was involved with the anti-apartheid movement in Canada, I organized a number of demonstrations in Victoria between 1984 and 1989.   The idea that someone could be imprisoned for decades for simply wanting the basic human rights we have in Canada pushed all my buttons.

I was in London for the April 16th 1990 Nelson Mandela concert at Wembley stadium.  I was living close enough to the stadium to be able to hear it at moments - the Brent Reservoir reflected the sound rather well. .  This event is one of two events I wished I could have gone to in my life.   I could not get a ticket at anything close to an amount I could afford.  Even though I could not go, it was close enough to me that I could feel like I was a small part of celebration of freedom and democracy.

I had a chance in the early 1990s to hear about the changes in South Africa rather more directly than I had ever expected to.  From 1990-1992 I attended St James Piccadilly in London, which is where Trevor Huddleston lived at the time.   He was an Anglican Archbishop who had been a priest in Sophiatown South Africa from 1943 to 1956 when he had to leave because he spoke out about apartheid.  When he retired from episcopal office in 1983 he dedicated his life to the anti-apartheid movement and become of the global leaders.  

On numerous Sundays I got a chance to speak with him in person.   He was "interesting" to talk with - he had no time for fools, he had a cranky edge to him, but I did hear what he thought should happen in South Africa and what he knew was happening.   I also lingered nearby as he talked with senior Anglican ministers that attended St James and was happy to hear that Nelson Mandela was making sure there would be a peaceful transition of power.  

In 1999 Nelson Mandela did what I thought was one of the most important things in his life, he stepped down as president of South Africa.   Too many liberation heroes become tyrants once they are in power and refuse to relinquish power unless forced to, people like Robert Mugabe and Fidel Castro utterly betrayed any sense of liberation by being even worse tyrants than the ones they replaced.  

The expectation of a peaceful transition of power and the ballot box is important, it is an important marker of a functioning democracy.   I am certain Nelson Mandela could have been re-elected as long as he wanted, but that would have set a bad example.   South Africa may be flawed democracy but at least the country has seen several peaceful transitions between presidents.

Nelson Mandela was not a prefect man but he went much further than the vast majority of people in living his life true to his core values of freedom.  He sets an important example for all of us.

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