Alagi Yorro Jallow
Fatoumatta: The impact and legacy of this great man is something I like to always honor and cherish. Here are two things that stand out for me about his life: His focus on Forgiveness. The Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, while not being perfect, were simply astounding approaches to previous injustice.
“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”
His patience. 27 years in prison. Can you imagine? Furthermore, to walk away from that experience, more assertive, prouder, more forgiving, and loving than when he walked in. Incredible.
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
It took a man like Mandela to free not just the prisoner, but the jailor as well; to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion, generosity, and truth. He changed laws, but also hearts.
Fatoumatta: I visited South Africa over two decades ago, attended the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Durban, South Africa, and also attended the historic AllAfrica Editors Forum inaugural launching in Johannesburg, a beautiful country with intense, vibrant people who are still working through the history of apartheid (and is the US not working through the history of slavery still?).
However, there was a determination to find a way to peace, and this great man inspired it. Nelson Mandela showed us the power of action, of taking risks on behalf of our ideals. Perhaps Mandela was right to inherit “a proud rebelliousness, a stubborn sense of fairness” from his father. Indeed, he shared with millions of black and colored South Africans the anger born of “a thousand slights, a thousand indignities, a thousand unremembered moments … a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people”.
However, like other early giants of the ANC – the Sisulus and Tambos and others. Mandela disciplined his anger; and channeled his desire to fight into organization, platforms, and strategies for action, so men and women could stand up for their dignity. Moreover, he accepted the consequences of his actions, knowing that standing up to powerful interests and injustice carries a price. “I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination,” he said at his 1964 trial. “I’ve cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
President Mandela taught us the power of action and ideas, the importance of reason and arguments, the need to study not only those you agree with but those you do not. He understood that ideas could not be contained by prison walls or extinguished by a sniper’s bullet. He turned his trial into an indictment of apartheid because of his eloquence and passion and his training as an advocate. He used decades in prison to sharpen his arguments and spread his thirst for knowledge to others in the movement. Moreover, he learned the language and customs of his oppressor so that one day he might better convey to them how their freedom depended upon his.
Mandela demonstrated that action and ideas are not enough; no matter how right, they must be chiseled into laws and institutions. He was practical, testing his beliefs against the hard surface of circumstance and history. On core principles, he was unyielding, which is why he could rebuff offers of conditional release, reminding the Apartheid regime that “prisoners cannot enter into contracts.” Nevertheless, as he showed in painstaking negotiations to transfer power and draft new laws, he was not afraid to compromise for the sake of a larger goal. Furthermore, because he was a leader of a movement, but a skillful politician, the Constitution that emerged was worthy of this multiracial democracy, true to his vision of laws that protect minority and majority rights and the precious freedoms of every South African.
Madiba understood the ties that bind the human spirit. There is a word in South Africa- Ubuntu – that describes his greatest gift: his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that can be invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others and caring for those around us. We can never know how much of this was innate in him or how much was shaped and burnished in a dark, solitary cell.
Fatoumatta: As Gambians, we, too, must act on behalf of justice. We, too, must act on behalf of peace. Unfortunately, too many of us happily embrace Mandela’s legacy of racial reconciliation but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality. Some too many leaders claim solidarity with Mandela’s struggle for freedom but do not tolerate dissent from their people. Moreover, too many of us stand on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard. For those he inspired around the globe – Nelson Mandela is celebrating International Mandela Day deserves time to celebrate his heroic life. Let his patience and focus on Forgiveness inspire and guide everyone in New Gambia.
Alagi Yorro Jallow