“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” Nelson Mandela (1918 – 2013)
My heroes when I was a child growing up in Grimes County, Texas were always the cowboys in old western movies I watched on Saturday mornings with my daddy. They were men who settled their differences with guns but fired only at the bad guys who were easily identifiable as thieves, cattle rustlers, or other desperadoes out to do wrongs to innocent ranchers or townspeople. The bad guys were often found drinking whiskey in saloons in the company of women with “loose” morals – women that sometimes turned out to be damsels in distress. The movie cowboys rescued damsels in distress whenever they spotted one and fought to bring justice to the lawless frontier that was the American West.
As I aged, my heroes have thankfully changed, but the people I most admire are still the ones who try to lift my vision toward higher ground; and by higher ground I mean a place where justice and equality reign in tandem against the forces of unfairness, dishonesty and outright evil. My cowboys have been replaced by men and women who choose to settle their differences with words that effect change more powerfully than did the guns of the Wild West. They are people whose examples give us hope of rescue when we find ourselves in the saloons we make of our lives.
Nelson Mandela was such a hero to me, a man whose extraordinary personal sacrifice changed the politics of his own South Africa which inspired dreams for peace and democracy around the world. Facing the death penalty for sabotage at his trial in April, 1964 Mandela spoke these words:
“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have 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.”
He was sentenced to life imprisonment but was released in 1990 by President F. W. de Klerk who then negotiated with Mandela’s party to end apartheid in South Africa. Twenty-seven years of his life with no personal freedom, and Nelson Mandela became a symbol of freedom for his nation and the rest of the world. In 1993 Mandela and de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their work to end the oppression of apartheid in their country. Mandela became the first black president of South Africa in 1994.
For me, Nelson Mandela was as brave as any cowboy I watched in the Saturday morning westerns of my childhood. In a world today where the ideals of democracy and personal freedom are under attack by forces as evil as the Covid-19 virus which claims the lives of the poor, people of color, the elderly – those who are marginalized by our own divisive institutions as surely as the institution of apartheid did in South Africa – I look to Nelson Mandela for his sacrifice and courage that showed me the power of peace in the midst of turmoil, hope for unity in a world divided artificially by the hate we’ve learned to love.
(photo from Wikipedia)