Releasing Nelson Mandela

“The family must release him so that God may have his own way,”  Andrew Mlangeni, told the local newspaper, the Sunday Times. “They must release him spiritually and put their faith in the hands of God. Once the family releases him, the people of South Africa will follow.”  The Independent

Nelson waving

I’ve been thinking about this statement today–issued by a co-defendant of Nelson Mandela’s, and fellow prisoner on Robben Island. For the fourth time since December, the 94 year old leader and soul of South Africa  is once again hospitalized.

I realize that both as a former reporter and a person, I am not ready to release Nelson Mandela either.

Covering the  story of the end of apartheid and the freedom of Nelson Nelson walkMandela in 1990 was the biggest and best story of my career. Watching him take that glorious walk out of Robben; standing outside his home in Soweto the next morning, seeing him waving to schoolchildren; and sharing the thunderous cheers of thousands of black South Africans who gathered in stadiums to hear his voice, waiting for his orders about next steps…exhilarating.

I was back again, traveling with reporters following New York City mayor David Dinkins as he met with Mandela. And worked the coverage of the historic Mandela visit to New York City. I felt, and was right, that there would never be a story to match it in terms of earthshaking, fundamental, revolutionary change.

But to me as a person, Nelson Mandela symbolizes something particular, emotional, internal. I suppose it has to do with grace, second chances, using your best next self to do good. Twenty-seven years in prison, demolishing apartheid, and then attempting to govern the unwieldy mess it left behind…I’m not sure which took more courage.

Another reason I’m not ready to give up Nelson Mandela: I remember my country and its citizens as brave and insistent against apartheid, making corporations and government respond to the outrage of bondage. I’m not saying it was easy or quick, but it got done.

magubane casketsJust by chance, I spent this afternoon with Lenora Taitt-Magubane, the wife of famed South African photojournalist Peter Magubane. It was Peter’s photos of  the violence of apartheid in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s that  documented its evil and moved the world. As we looked through Peter’s published books: the murder and savagery of a ruling minority, with some relief we know we are not there anymore, in so many ways.

I suppose it’s too much to ask one man to do more. The rest is up to us.

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