Nelson Mandela who created history has become history. A person I have admired tremendously, I have always wondered what made him do what he did.
Born to the royal Thembu family, he could have enjoyed his life in a nondescript way. But he did not.
He could have just lived his own life and disregarded the travails and troubles of his fellowmen. But he did not.
He was imprisoned for 27 years. 18 of those years were in a solitary cell, 8 x 7 feet with only a straw mat in the infamous Robben Island prison.
Long before the waters created the divide between the Cape and the Robben Island, it was inhabited by people. But after the Dutch settled at the Cape in the mid-1600s, the Island had been used primarily as a prison. In 1997, post Mandela’s release and after he became the first black South African President, the island become a museum and a UNESCO world heritage site.
The nearly oval shaped island according to Wikipedia is about 3.3 km long north-south and 1.9 km long wide. The swell of the open Atlantic sea breaks on the shore and the coral reefs around and causes the foamy surf of the sea to thrash and pound the island day in and out. The icy winds slash like sharp knives, painful and agonizing.
It is sheer irony and quirk of destiny that such an inhospitable terrain in the four walls of a prison in Robben Island became the cradle of an iconic movement as well as dug the grave of the most inhuman practice of Apartheid.
It is said that he was not permitted to wear sun glasses and the constant glare from the lime stones around damaged his eyesight irreparably. It damaged his eyesight but not his vision for his land.
Solitary confinement is the worst form of psychological torture. Man being a social being, to clip his wings of camaraderie and bonding is the unkindest cut of all. Mandela overcame this cruelest challenge too.
Now, what would that kind of solitary life have done to you and me, ordinary mortals? You can’t even take a few steps to keep your body machine greased and well oiled. We would have become bundles of desperation, frustration, seething with anger – ready to explode and implode, the flames of vengeance sky high and the worst of all an unforgiving attitude, I am sure. But he did not. He said, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
Many thought a freed Mandela who also became the President could end up becoming a dictator or despot. But surprising everyone, and true to what he said, Mandela never engaged in any witch hunt. He never forgot the ways he traversed, yet he forgave all. He was compassion and humility personified. He believed that education is the panacea to all that ails the world. He said, “Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world”. He longed to see a world free of violence and hatred. He said, “We owe our children – the most vulnerable citizens in any society – a life free from violence and fear.” His loved children and said, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”
Rest In Peace, beloved Madiba. You are not just of South Africa – you belong to the World. A world that dreams of Peace, Justice and Freedom.
P.S: Wish most of those who are in politics in India would at least take a lesson or two, if not all, from this great icon’s life.