Mourning MandelaPosted: 2013/12/07
“He represents not the settling of scores,
but the building of bridges.”
Article by Prof. Ada Aharoni, IFLAC Founding President
We are all deeply saddened and profoundly pained at the passing of a great world historical figure and leader, Nelson Mandela – a person who endured 27 years in a South African prison and emerged not only to preside over the abolishment of apartheid, but, in fact, to make possible, as President, the establishment of a democratic, multiracial, free South Africa.
Mandela was the embodiment of the three great struggles of the 20th century: 1. the long march toward freedom, as he put it, 2. the march for democracy, and 3. the march for equality. He was indeed a metaphor and message for the struggle for human rights and human dignity in our time.
In 1977, I traveled to South Africa as a guest of the South African Poetry Society, and the Jewish Council. At the invitation of the South African Union of Jewish Students, I spoke at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and in the University of Cape Town on the topic of “Freedom for Israel – Freedom for South Africa”, and I was invited to read my Peace and Freedom poetry at the American Embassy in Johannesburg, in which Nadine Gordimer attended. By the end of my reading from my book POEMS FROM ISRAEL, a black African poet cried: “Israel is not your country!” I was glad when several other poets and people from the audience responded to him: “Israel is her country! Ada Aharoni is against apartheid in Africa and wants freedom for her own country and for Africa just like Mandela!”
I met with Pik Botha, the South African Minister of Foreign Affairs, and with Mrs. Botha at a reception they held for me in Johannesburg. When I spoke against apartheid and on Mandela’s behalf, I was reprimanded by Pik Botha that Mandela was a terrorist. I answered that Mandela was struggling for freedom of his people. I forewarned him that he wouldn’t like me saying this – but that South Africa was the only post-World War II country that had institutionalized racism as a matter of law. Apartheid, I argued, was not only a racist philosophy, but a racist legal regime, and I would speak and write against it wherever I was.
Unimpressed by my arguments, Botha spent over two hours trying to convince me that South Africa was in fact a democratic pluralist society, one where black and white citizens were separate but equal. However, because of the esteem he had for me and for Israel, he encouraged me to tour the country and see the true nature of apartheid for myself.
I met with Botha again at the end of my trip. When asked for my impressions, I agreed that the country was indeed a democracy – if you were white. But if you were black, I said, it was even worse than I had thought.
Accordingly, when I was asked by Mandela’s senior counsel at the time – Issie Meisels as well as his wife, who invited me to dinner, and they introduced me to Selma Broede, the courageous head of the Black Sash Women organization – the women’s anti-apartheid group, and both also inspired me to take up Mandela’s cause and to stand bravely with them, wearing a black sash too, in front of the South African Government, in protest of apartheid. We were not allowed to protest or to hold banners, but we were allowed to silently protest wearing our black sashes in blatant accusation.
Upon my return to Israel and the visit to my family in France, I intensified my anti-apartheid advocacy, including participating in the public launch of a major anti-apartheid initiative in Tel Aviv, involving Amnesty International, among others. I spoke at various forums and as I said then, the three great struggles of the 20th century – for freedom, equality, and democracy – were symbolized and anchored in Mandela’s personal struggle in South Africa.
Nelson Mandela not only embodied the struggle for human rights and human dignity in our time, but also the overriding importance of education as a precondition for a culture of peace – for tolerance, for healing, and for reconciliation. His emergence after 27 years in prison – not only to preside over the dismantling of apartheid, but to build and govern a renewed and unified nation – will be an enduring source of inspiration and hope not only for South Africans, but for all of us the world over.
Recently, I returned to South Africa, to participate in a Peace and Reconciliation Conference, at an important moment in the country’s history. I asked about Pik Botha, and was told that he had become the first South African cabinet minister to call for Mandela’s release, he had become a member of the ANC, and he had served in Mandela’s government from 1994 to 1996. Indeed, Mandela’s greatest legacy may be his power to convert adversaries – be they prison wardens or government ministers – into allies, building coalitions between diverse – even antagonistic – peoples, races, and identities. He represents not the settling of scores, but the building of bridges.
Mandela was a role model for nation building wherever we are. He was the one who inspired the notion of establishing a rainbow coalition, of taking diverse peoples, even antagonistic peoples, and welding them into a united rainbow coalition for nation building.
Mandela – as I learned from those who knew him best – was a person without rancor, without revenge, without anger, without malice – a person, of resilience, of determination, of commitment – and most of all, an inspirational person – a metaphor for hope, particularly for the young.
IFLAC, that follows Mandela’s ideology and values, and I, join all those in South Africa and around the world who mourn the loss of the great humanist leader Nelson Mandela, and who strive to learn the lessons of his remarkable leadership and life.
May his memory serve us always as an inspiration – and may that memory help us to promote a global village of freedom, democracy, equality and human dignity.