Monday, 13 January 2014

Madiba's Message for the Future


Nelson Rolihlala Mandela 18 July 1918 - 5 December 2013

Madiba has been a presence for me for over 50 years. I first heard about him when I was a student at the University of Witwatersrand and my narrow ‘white’ perceptions were being challenged. When the Special Branch banged on my door early one morning in July 1964, three weeks after life sentences were handed down at the Rivonia Trial, I knew that whatever I had to face under ‘90 days’ detention could never be compared with what Mandela and his comrades were undergoing. But knowing that this was a shared struggle helped me stay focused in solitary confinement. Later, in exile, I witnessed Nelson Mandela’s name come to represent much more than just one man.

His name became associated with the values of non-racism, equality and justice that were regarded as the core of the struggle against apartheid. His words - banned in South Africa - were spoken, repeated and multiplied around the world thanks to organisations like the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM) and those founded by Canon Collins, including the International Defence and Aid Fund for Southern Africa (IDAF) and British Defence and Aid Fund for Southern Africa (BDAF). Many will have forgotten the seminal work of the SATIS (South Africa The Imprisoned Society) committee, originally initiated by Ethel de Keyser (then at AAM) and former political prisoner Hugh Lewin (then at IDAF).

In time, Madiba’s image before he went to prison – like his words, banned in South Africa – began to appear on posters, placards, and on T-shirts to tea-mugs. In 1985, BDAF and Inner London’s Centre for Anti-Racist Education published my examination of non-fiction books on South Africa for young people Censoring Reality.  It was done on a typewriter and a cut-and-paste job with the assistance of Dawn Gill from ILEA's Anti-Racist Education team. We devoted a page to displaying Nelson Mandela’s words from the Rivonia Trial. They offered a stark contrast to the censored material being presented to young people in most British publications which offered little, if any, accurate information about apartheid.

While writing Journey to Jo’burg and my other South African youth fiction, those values that Nelson Mandela had upheld as a beacon were a constant presence.  When BDAF helped to launch Journey to Jo’burg and Censoring Reality at the Africa Centre in London in 1985, in our wildest dreams we could never have imagined that within five years Madiba would be released from prison. How could we have possibly imagined the huge attention and global tributes at his passing in 2013?

We still have great need of that beacon. Denis Goldberg, also sentenced to life imprisonment at Rivonia, recently wrote:
My memory of Nelson Mandela is his comment on being released from prison, that he and we are not yet free, we are only free to become free.
He went on to say that to be free it is not enough to cast off our chains; we must so live our lives that we enhance and advance the freedom of others....
He also said that when one has climbed a mountain one sees that there are more mountains to climb. It is we who must progress from where we are to a more egalitarian world order.

It is up to us. That is Madiba’s message.


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