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Long walk to freedom


IT IS almost surreal that as the movie Long Walk to Freedom makes its debut in most countries Nelson Mandela has already made his exit from this world.

This past Sunday I went to watch the much-anticipated and highly publicised film adaptation of Nelson’s biography.

There was the obvious brouhaha of why local actors were overlooked as international actors took the lead roles in this production. However, cringeworthy Xhosa and Zulu pronunciations aside, I sincerely believe that Idris Elba and Naomi Harris gave sterling Oscar worthy performances.

Besides providing a dramatic portrayal of Mandela’s life and his Long Walk to Freedom, the film also articulates with startling clarity the painful history that is South Africa.

What pains me even more is when I see this history repeating itself in the 21st Century South Africa I live in today.

Sitting in the dark cinema the film evoked emotions in me that teetered from outrage to deep gut wrenching sadness.

The violence and oppression that was apartheid made me feel nothing but deep hatred for the oppressors.

I was outraged that this sytem of divide and destroy continued as long as it did. The pain was real when Mandela and his compatriates were transported to a prison life of drudgery on Robben Island.

It cut deep when Winnie Mandela suffered her own incarceration and abject torture under a system that was designed to break the spirit. So vividly was the affliction of black South Africans that I was moved to tears.

So when Nelson Mandela emerged from prison the expectation would have been for him to pursue a policy of retribution and revenge against his oppressors. Yet what he did instead was to pursue a policy of reconciliaiton and reparation.

The fear was real in the early ’90s among the White community who felt that Black Rule would bring reverse apartheid — that of the oppressor being the oppressed. Yet instead Mandela chose to let bygones be bygones.

It is for this reason that some will label him a traitor. I sincerely believe at the time he was trying to rebuild and reconstruct a nation that was deeply divided and broken.

Let us not underestimate the colossal task that he had in steering an economy from the post-apartheid era.

The concept of a rainbow nation might be elusive yet that doesn’t belie the vision that he had which was to unify. We often recite the Lord’s prayer: “Forgive us our tresspasses; as we forgive those who tresspass against us.”

Yet how many of us really have the capacity to forgive? To rise above acrimony?

Mandela personifies forgiveness and lived by those words which makes him remarkable.

It is for this reason why we celebrate him, not solely because he went to prison for 27 years; several liberation struggle icons languished in prison.

We celebrate Mandela because when he emerged from prison he forgave those who put him behind bars.

That spirit of compassion and humility is what makes him a revered and respected man. He was not a saint.

Much of his early life chronicles how he was a womaniser, a father who neglected his children.

Yet those are not the lessons we are here to take from his life.

He was a man with a purposeful mission which was to liberate his people from the chains of apartheid and establish a truly democratic South Africa for all.

The years in prison did not harden him, instead they gave him humility and transformed him beyond the hate. It is for this reason on Friday December 6 when the entire world woke up to the news of Nelson Mandela’s death that heart felt emotions reverberated across boundaries, across colours and creed.

He was not just a national icon but an international one who inspired millions by the way he lived.

When all is said and done, Mandela was a courageous man who walked a considerably long and painful journey to liberate his country politically and should be applauded for this.

That struggle is now over and the walk now should be focused on achieving economic freedom.

Mandela paved the way and now the challenge lies with this generation to take the baton forward and forge ahead with economic emancipation for a largely disenfranchised country characterised by blatant inequalities and income disparities.

 Sukoluhle Nyathi is the author of The Polygamist. You can follow her on Twitter @SueNyathi

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