Monday, December 9, 2013

Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

Few people in the history of the world have a profound effect on all mankind. Fewer still are deemed worthy of near sainthood, their death eliciting a cause for global mourning. Nelson Mandela will be counted among those few.

I saw Mandela in Oakland. June 1990. It was the last stop on an 8 city tour of the U.S. 4 months after being freed from a South African jail. He had been a political prisoner for 27 years. At the age of 71 he was a free man.

“Mandela is coming, Mandela is coming” everybody was talking about it. I did not know who “Mandela” was. The event was at the Oakland Coliseum. The way folks carried on I thought he was a (new) rock star. Somebody at work had an extra ticket. Looking back, I now recognize I saw and heard speak one of the greatest human beings of all time.

I went expecting a concert when what actually took place was an old school love/peace fest/, black power movement/protest, Bay Area style, attended by 58,000 people. In a sea of people banners that read “Oregon” and “Seattle”, they had come from all over the West Coast. The hippies from Berkeley/San Francisco and the Black Panthers from Oakland were both well represented. Within an expanse of multicultural faces, yellow, black and green (the South African flag) were the colors of the blistering hot day.

Oakland, CA , the birthplace of the Black Panther/Black Power movement was a fitting stop for the tour. Fresh out of jail Mandela had come to America to press even harder for sanctions against corporations that did business with South Africa under the conditions of apartheid. The ovation that greeted the little old man as he walked on stage was long and thunderous. He gave his speech and people cried. When he spoke of equality and (in)justice and freedom for his people in South Africa it renewed what would became a global response to his plea. (See Internet videos). Four years later he was elected president of South Africa.

Having to carry a “pass”, segregation, not being allowed to vote or own property were the law during apartheid. “We were placed in a position to accept inferiority or defy the government. We choose to defy the government”. said Mandela. Nelson Mandela’s story is one of perseverance, dignity and honor. His is the story of not backing down, of not giving up. He fought the good fight and we all won!