Opinionista Lance Claasen 10 December 2013

The day I forgave Mandela

When Nelson Mandela walked to freedom on 11 February 1990, I was 16 years old and part of an increasingly politically aware generation - filled with a just anger at the injustices that was being perpetrated against us by an unjust state.

This experience weighs very heavily on a naïve teenager coming to grips with his fate of being black in an Apartheid state. While I should have been acting on adolescent pursuits, I was contemplating how to stay in a country that did not want me to thrive, to grow, to mature into something of my own making.

The thought of exile had become a very clear possibility, for someone who had hardly been past the Hottentots Holland mountains (the range that rings the Cape Peninsula). Such were the adult worries on my immature mind. This was not just my reality, but also for thousands of other young people across South Africa. While white males were conscripted into the army to protect the state, we were also conscripted by colour to fight it.

Apartheid was more than just a prejudicial string of inconveniences. It was oppression. It aimed to subjugate, humiliate and disempower its target. It laid out a plan for your life, no matter what your colour and demanded that you play the prescribed role. Whether it was being the boss or being the servant. It tried to convince us these roles were important and the individual that played these parts were not.

This is where Nelson Mandela and the cohort of leaders that surrounded him gave us something that could not be given away. It was foolish, it was silly it was beyond the bounds of reason and sanity. It was the belief that men jailed on an island, children with stones in their hands and a revolutionary movement trapped beyond its borders, could slay a monster that taunted our reality. They gave us hope. Hope that good triumphs over evil and one day we would overcome.

We would do all of this with Nelson Mandela becoming our elected president. We did nothing to stop the feeding of this “fantasy”. We were fired up on this drug called hope and had created an alternate universe of equal rights and justice. Hope is a powerful weapon in the hands of the oppressed. It allows you to look at your current situation with the optimism that things can and will and must get better.

So we turned this man Mandela into a fantasy and later we transformed him into a god. He would smite the hated Botha and De Klerk. He would feed the thousands, clothe the millions and heal us of all our pain. We expected so much and wanted too much of a man a mere flesh and blood man. And like all of us made of flesh and blood, he would be bound to disappoint us with his humanity at some point in the future.

Being young and naïve did not make me stupid, so I readied myself for a sign of his human frailties.

In the recesses of my heart I forgave him for being human, as no human would be able to carry this god like expectations. No human could match up to all the hype and scrutiny of a world hungry for hope.

Then he did something that even surprised us, those who had silently forgiven him for his humanity. He did not match our unrealistic expectations; he exceeded and soared above all the hopes we had placed on his shoulders. He did not see these expectations as unwanted burden; he embraced them as part of humanity.

He did not do it with bags of rhetoric.

He did it simply.

He did it quietly.

He did it with humility and compassion.

He did it being the most humane of human beings.

Hamba Kahle Tata. DM

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