On Thursday, December 5, the world lost the influential leader, historical figure and man, Nelson Mandela. Club President Scott Lyons shares his connection with the former President of South Africa. Do have a story or feelings on the loss of Nelson Mandela? Please feel free to share on the ECDC website and/or facebook page.
“In 2000, I spent a month traveling in South Africa as a tourist. The country made for wonderful travel–cheap accommodations, relatively sparse tourist traffic, beautiful parks and reserves for hiking and safaris, and a patchwork of cultures and peoples. Nelson Mandela had recently stepped down from the presidency, but the turmoil and trauma and optimism and hope of the revolution were still fresh in everyone’s minds.
On Robben Island, only a few miles off the coast of Cape Town, with views of the city just as stunning as those we have from Alcatraz, former prisoners acted as tour guides and showed us where this and that had occurred. Mandela’s cell was (and is still) a highlight of the tour. I imagined him living there, serving a life sentence, spending decades waiting and hoping and holding faith in the future.
As we filed into the cafeteria to hear the stories of the facility, our guide looked across the room of Brits and Germans and Americans and said, “Let me start by thanking you for your help in ending apartheid.” It was a perfect reflection of the reconciliation that Mandela had willed on the country. We had done little to end apartheid–perhaps a few in the room had written their congressmen or MPs to support economic sanctions or had supported the disinvestment effort. Our guide, on the other hand, had risked his life and spent a decade in prison fighting against the system.
Later on the trip I spoke with a white South African about Mandela. “We just love him so much,” she said, somewhat wistfully. Many people said similar things. There was always an unspoken “but…” that hid their fears for the post-Mandela era. But no one doubted that, in those years in the early 90s when the country hung in the balance, it was Mandela alone who had averted the nascent three-way civil war, who had inspired an inclusive and liberal constitution, who had led the commissions of reconciliation that had done so much to heal and help the country to move on.
So I, along with millions of others, have been inspired by Mandela’s life to hope for a better future. His incredible triumph should remind us that dramatic changes are possible, even in the relatively short period of a human lifetime. And as we continue our own struggles for justice we should remember just how much it is possible to achieve.”