When I was a young girl growing up in South Africa in the 1960s, all I knew about Nelson Mandela was that according to government propaganda of the day, he was a traitor. Words like sabotage and traitor were ascribed to him. I didn’t know the meaning of those newspaper headlines and assumed they were bad. Mandela’s name was definitely not mentioned in our government controlled schools.
It wasn’t till the mid-70s after I had been exiled from South Africa and unstoppable protests and riots broke loose in the country of my birth, through the international press, that I learned who Mandela really was. I learned that he, initially committed to non-violence, co-founded the militant Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), leading a sabotage campaign against the apartheid regime. He was arrested in 1962, and convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the government for which he was sentenced to life imprisonment.
At the Rivonia Trial, in his defense, he made this brave declaration from the dock: “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to see realised, but my lord, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” February 11, 1990, was one of those monumental dates written on the history pages.
In my home in Canada, tears spilled from my eyes splashing the garment on my ironing board as I stared at the television screen in disbelief, when networks all around the world broadcasted Mandela’s walk out of the Cape Town prison gates to freedom. Thank God you lived to see that day, and thank you, Nelson Mandela, for taking on the fearsome juggernaut of apartheid and finally slaying the beast. Rest in peace, Madiba.