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Entries in Nelson Mandela (3)


Weekly Pause &  Ponder

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.

- Nelson Mandela


For Freedom, Justice and Democracy: Nelson Mandela Day

“Make every day a Mandela Day” and be involved in action that will inspire change to promote a better world for all.  Mandela himself rooted in a sense of decency, democracy and forgiveness engaged in a conversation with “the next generation” and spoke about the challenge of leadership to address the world’s social injustices when he said that “it is in your hands now.”  As a black revolutionary leader, he was imprisoned for 27 years by the racist white South African regime.  Upon his release he promoted his convictions for a just peace that moved him beyond the status quo to reconciliation. In that way, he continued his revolutionary trend of not accepting the status quo to become a person of peace with a capacity of love that enhances one another even when there are challenging disagreements.  

Enjoy renowned South African photographer Matthew Willman’s photo of Mandela’s red office chair. One day, while visiting his friend, he was inspired to ask if he could take the chair out into an open field where he had children run by it into the distance, to symbolize the impact Mandela had on the future generations of South Africa.

Mabel St. Louis, CSJ

This is Maya Angelou's poem for Madiba. "His Day is Done". Listen to her words as we celebrate the United Nations International Day of Nelson Mandela.


Nelson Mandela: Through the Lens of his Photographer Friend

Nelson Mandela Day – July 18, 2015
Over the years I’ve often been asked what Nelson Mandela, ‘Madiba’, was really like - why he smiles so much and why he only served one term as President of the Republic of South Africa.

Many of us want to believe that he really was who we saw him as, that his smile was real both in public and in private, and to somehow try to believe that it was only his great age that limited his years as President of the Republic of South Africa. The truth is that each of these questions hinges on a privilege I had for ten years, the privilege I had to witness a man interacting with the world in both the public arenas, and those special enough to be with him in his home and office at The Nelson Mandela Foundation.

As a photographer commissioned to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, so much of my duty and work was to watch and listen, to remain in the shadows but with an eye fixed solely on this great man through the lens of a camera.

I understand that I am no President Bill Clinton, no Oprah Winfrey or Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, whose great voices have proclaimed great things about this one man. There will never be a time in the future where, whatever I say, will add to the great chorus of those great and mighty men and women in leadership and influence around the world. Yet on reflecting over the past few years since Mandela’s passing, I realize that there is only one path that will see this man grow from hero to legend and legend to myth and that is the voice of the common man and woman who today keep telling the stories of the day they met Mandela. It is their story, the undocumented, the unknown stories of those who just happened to be in the right place at the right time and found themselves looking into the warm face of a person we could all easily recognise as a grandfather.

Herein begins my story. The story of a young boy who dreamed and actively pursued finding Mandela for nine years just to have the opportunity of shaking this great man’s hand. To shake it, make my comments to him and then to go on my way back out into the world, confident that the man I trusted for so long to be, who I wanted him to be, was indeed real. I thought it would take one 10 minute meeting to do this. It took me ten years of repeatedly walking through his office door to photograph him to truly appreciate and respect who this man really was.

Was Madiba really what he seemed? Yes. One of the things I can say with great confidence is that the man I came to know was the same man in public as he was in private. That’s an incredible thing to say about someone. Of course we all think how this was possible.  It’s possible because he was a man at peace with himself. His life experience had challenged him to make peace with himself, to wrestle with what I call a ‘civil war’ that rages on within each of us. Mandela had learned to command it, to govern its unruly behaviour. Did this mean he never got cross or never spoke ill of someone? Mandela in public scolded those who broke the boundaries of discipline, deceitfulness and who acted without concern for the livelihood of others. In private, any anger or intolerance towards another was born from that same conviction he displayed especially during his prison years with fellow prisoners and during the early 90’s when he was negotiating with the Nationalist Party. He was a man of principle who led with his heart but governed with his head.

I’ve heard people criticize leaders for being too boring, stoic and serious. However, I’ve heard others on the complete opposite end criticize Mandela for always smiling. I’ve often wondered why Madiba, without prompting, would break out in the biggest smile, why whenever he entered a room he would be the loudest man. Often I would hear him coming from the other side of the Mandela Foundation. Why is this? I return to the life lessons Madiba experienced and having personally spent eighteen months living and working on Robben Island, having documented the greatest part of this man’s sixty-four years actively fighting the Apartheid system, my conclusion is simple and perhaps profound.

When Mandela walked to freedom on the 9th of February 1990 from Victor Verster Prison, his physical walking to freedom was indeed a great victory, an action that resounded around the world. Yet Mandela’s own personal victory lay hidden and unseen for many more years.

On the occasion of Robben Island formally closing as a place of imprisonment and isolation, Mandela took a rock from the Lime Quarry and told the world that he made a choice when he walked to freedom, and that was to forgive. With that rock in his hand he symbolically placed the rock on the ground as a symbol of him laying down his heavy load. He told the world that if he did not choose to forgive even though he was a free man, he would forever remain a captive within his heart to those who had held him prisoner for twenty-seven years. Mandela made a choice that day; it was that choice to forgive that truly released him that day in February 1990.

Madiba smiled because he could; he laughed out loud because he could. He chose at every public and private reception that I had the privilege to attend with him to find the lowest, most junior person in the room to shake their hand because he could. His victory within gave him that pleasure, that joy, that smile and that laugh that was so hard fought for.

As we reflect now on what would have been Madiba’s 97th birthday, and what we have all learned about Mandela’s life, many things come to mind. For me, Madiba had one last trick up his sleeve. Madiba chose one of his greatest achievements to yet again make a clear statement to leaders around the world and in particular to the many despot leaderships that exist in Africa today. By personal choice Mandela stepped down from power on his own accord after serving only one term in office. Whilst the world was begging him to run for another term of office, something he admits he could have easily done, he stepped aside at the very pinnacle of his success. Like the great symbol of hope his life came to mean, he left an echoing call to his political peers across Africa that you don’t hold onto power but you hand it over to the next generation to lead. Mandela was the first African leader to voluntarily step down from power. This was a smack in the face to many of the African leaders we have in power today, some going on to forty years in power.

So now, as time passes, I find myself alone deep in thought trying to squeeze from my memory everything I experienced, all I heard, the myriad of people who have all gone away back into the world and now share their story about the day they met Nelson Mandela.

Do I miss him? Yes, there is not a day that goes by when I don’t think what he meant to me; his funny voice, his mannerisms, how he always called me ‘Prince Harry’ (much to the confusion of those around him) but most of all I remember how on one fresh spring morning I was sitting with him and I asked him what I could do to perhaps help others, to help my country. Madiba looked out the window and then quickly back at me and answered, “You know, if you want to remain relevant, you must serve,”… and that’s exactly what I set about doing.

Guest Blogger: Matthew Willman

Website: www.matthewwillman.co.za

MW Foundation for the Arts: www.mwvaf.org


Copyright 2013. Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Canada.