- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 8, 2013


Nelson Mandela was a lot of things to a lot of people.

To me, he was the father of South African democracy.

As a son, brother and Christian, he naturally assumed the same roles as many of his generation, and he became a college-educated man, although his parents — including his father, who was born into African clan royalty — were illiterate.

He also was a visionary and an anxious man.

Putting away childish things as the Bible teaches, he began shedding his youthful self and attempting to reconcile his adulthood and with the harsh realities of a post-World War II world and racist politics.

Like Americans thousands of miles away, he sensed that communism was out of sync with his Protestant values, and like his black American sisters and brothers and brethren in the diaspora, he came to see that apartheid — like U.S. segregation — was downright inhumane and unjust.

While he shared those common threads of life, he refused to conform.

Instead, he chose the path of resistance against white-minority rule.

In doing so, he refused to assume the low, lesser role drawn into law by colonial rule, and he refused to straddle the middle path — the same color-stricken path that many black Americans were choosing.

“Don’t upset the apple cart or the apples will surely spoil,” you might say.

Such would not be his way, though.

He fought, and he fought wielding a double-edged sword, breaking the law and slaughtering in the name of righteousness along the way.

He chose to begin removing obstructions for a new path as a human-rights, civil rights and social justice leader.

What did they expect?

He was given the forename Rolihlahla when born on July 18, 1918, and though a forgiving soul first viewed around the world after he emerged from spending 27 years in prison, Rolihlahla had certainly reflected the Xhosa colloquialism of his name, “troublemaker.”

He relentlessly and ruthlessly sought democracy and freedom.

Can you imagine having to carry — each and every day of your life — an identification card just because you are not white?

He thought black, Indian and “colored” South Africans should reap the bounties of liberty and justice as the whites did.

And he said he was willing to die for that liberty.

His cause, and the causes of other southwestern Africans, became the hallmark of Randall Robinson’s Washington-based TransAfrica, the lobby that led a constant stream of protests and arrests that resulted in, 19 years ago this holiday season, to the Free South Africa Movement.

While the demonstrators also were protesting the policies of the Reagan administration, the cross-section of members of the movement not only moved policies, but also hit the reset button from Washington.

He knew a new clock had begun ticking, yet he did not become a watchman.

Diplomatic and economic sanctions, high-profile hell-raising, worldwide spotlights, even jest (such as Danny Glover’s humorous exchanges at the South African consulate in 1989’s “Lethal Weapon 2”) brought additional pressure.

No longer anxious, he let the clock do what clocks do — and, sure enough, the mortar that had sustained apartheid and human-rights violations over the decades became weaker and weaker.

And, no longer able to stand steadfast because of a stroke, President P.W. Botha, who was but two years older than Mandela was, had already gotten out of the way, too, in 1989 and was replaced by F.W. de Klerk.

“Troublemaker” sat and waited.

And finally, after 27 years, the doors to freedom opened wide and he walked the new path of a free man (still punching the air).

He was not bitter, though.

He was not angry.

He was not feisty.

He was not militant.

He did not hate.

Nor was he weak-kneed and ungrateful.

He had reconciled his many selves long ago.

Besides, he knew — perhaps better than any terrorist, political prisoner, killer or vilified human being — what apartheid could do to a body.

He donned the title of president and Nobel Peace Prize winner, and he wore the diplomatic robe honorably and peacefully.

He had said he was willing to die.

And now he has.

He could have arrived at the Pearly Gates on Thursday and asked, “Where’s Botha?”

For he was said to have had a tongue as sharp as his keen sense of humor.

He was a man of many cloths.

May Rolihlahla Mandela rest in peace.

He certainly deserves to.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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