I first learned about apartheid from Gil Scott Heron as a white suburban girl in the mid-70s, long before most Americans had heard of Nelson Mandela or cared about the legalized abuse and segregation of an entire race. I first heard the song "Johannesburg" in the mid-70's on WBCN. I heard the reports about reporter Steven Biko, a white reporter who was killed in a police station in South Africa for reporting to the world about Apartheid and what was happening for real in South Africa, from Danny Schecter (the news dissector).
The world went on until the declaration, "I ain't gonna play Sun City," the South African equivalent of Las Vegas, echoed through the rock and roll world. Paul Simon performed with Ladysmith Black Mambazo and taught the US that there was an injustice in the world that, tragically, made the worst of the Southern Jim Crow laws look like amateur hour. Students began to demand divesture from South Africa and "shanty towns" appeared on college campuses.
In it all, Nelson Mandela was the shining light on the hill of dignity under the most extreme duress.
When he was freed from his 8x8 cell after 27 years, he did something even more amazing: he forgave. Not a mumbled kid apology of convenience, he truly forgave and encouraged the rest of the world to do so in an effort for all of us to move on. Right up until his end at the age of 95, he kept telling people to love and fight for justice. He inspired, he uplifted and he did all the things a good and just human being should do in this world.
But he didn't do it as "look at me, I'm such a great person." He did it as, "you can do this too."
One of the quotes that has stuck with me since a major speech he gave early on after his freedom has always been, "Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings." I humbly try to remember that and do what I can, when I can to work towards that goal. When people ask me why I am so critical of "christians" (small c intentional here), it is because they don't live it. Being a Christian means more than constantly posting "like if you love Jesus, share if you want his blessings, ignore if you want to go to hell...." type messages. They teach their children that prayer is like throwing a coin in the wishing well - G0d will answer your prayers if you just r e a l l y believe. They want to cut social aid in favor for less personal taxes because, well, if you don't want to be poor get off your ass and work. (While ignoring that the stats on the working poor and working homeless are growing at alarming rates and justifying it as there are people who cheat the system and they don't want to support those people.)
I hope a new generation will learn about Mandela as a result of the publicity in the aftermath of his death but it is hard to explain to kids how things used to be when they only know what is now. Perhaps part of my desire to teach is to address just that issue with kids - how to build on what went before to be even better. I hope to buy a copy of the beautiful tribute Peter Reynolds posted this morning that I have on my page now to hang up in a classroom one day.
The headline at the Onion yesterday said goodbye declaring he was the one politician that would be missed.
They were, sadly, correct.