Friday, December 6th, 2013...10:56 am
Mandela put his country first
There are many descriptors being attributed to Nelson Mandela since his death was announced Thursday, but the one I can identify with is healer.
The extremely bright lawyer, turned social activist, turned national prisoner, turned national president focused his later works and attentions on healing his country and his fellow countrymen. The unjust, stifling, wicked system of apartheid had divided South Africa so deeply that country could not have a viable future without a concerted effort to turn around that oppressive policy.
Mandela had to show the blacks and whites of his country as well as the eyes of the world that villain and victim could co-exist and even thrive. Oppressors had to discover compassion and the oppressed had to embrace forgiveness.
The way to do that was to live as an example. He had to forgive the men and policies that had defined blacks as less than human and that stole 27 years of his life. From behind bars he realized violence was not the answer, that it could not end the segregation black people were enduring.
But he also had to show, from behind bars, how the ruling minority and their policies needed to change. To do that, he helped orchestrate efforts to get the world involved with the fight for freedom.
With various countries, including late comer America, imposing sanctions on South Africa that caused the country to lose some $35 billion a year, apartheid began to look less inviting to the South African government. The Group Areas Act, which required segregated neighborhoods, had to be repealed. So did the Population Registration Act, which classified all South Africans by race at birth as white, black, colored or Indian, in order to determine their future successes. Blacks could not vote in national elections, or own property where they chose or run for national office.
That all changed slowly and Mandela, still imprisoned, became the face of that change.
When he was released from prison, he forgave all those who had incarcerated him, but fought hard to prevent others become political prisoners. And when, four years leader, he became president of South Africa, he insisted everyone be treated equally.
He helped bring about all those changes without sending the country into a civil war.
That is why the world’s leaders are making plans to visit South Africa to pay homage to Mandela. He was a man we all admire because he was able to set aside the fleshly need for revenge and retribution in order to reconcile his country and countrymen. He put his country first. That’s what healers do.
There is a lesson in there somewhere for America as well as the world.