Ubuntu – a Zulu word that sees people less as individuals and more as part of an infinitely complex web of other human beings. It is the idea that we are all bound, all connected, even if we never meet. Our life’s work and our stories inspire each other.
This morning I woke up, reached for my iPad and opened my Twitter application. The first thing that caught my eye was the headline ‘Mandela’s condition worsens to critical’. It’s no secret that Madiba as the world calls him, has been suffering ill-health for a while now. His worsening condition does nothing to encourage the millions of people who esteem and respect him across the world.
Mandela’s been on my mind all day today. In fact a colleague even jokingly remarked ‘you’re behaving like you know him personally’, but that’s just it. While I will never meet the man, reading about his life and walking where he walked has multiplied my regard for this man who sacrificed everything for his country and his people.
Last year, I visited Cape Town, South Africa and saw some of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. Pristine beaches with coral blue waves lapping against the sun-kissed shores, the majesty of the mighty Table Mountain, the splendor of Lion’s peak and Devil’s point and I’ve even managed to get a glimpse into the seedy underbelly of life in Cape Town. I’ve seen everything the tour brochures said I should see.
However, during that trip I experienced something so moving, so profound and so stirring that I can’t even begin to describe to you the emotions that such an experience can bring – We hopped on a boat that took us out of Cape Town to Robben Island, the prison fortress where Nelson Mandela spent 18 long years.
Just seeing the cells where the prisoners were kept, hearing the stories from our guide, seeing the place where Nelson Mandela originally hid his now world-famous manuscript and the individual cell where he was kept – stirred up in me emotions that I did not think a simple guided tour could ever do.
Through the stories we heard, shone the sheer determination of Mandel’s life and the strength of those who shared similar goals. Through it also shone the power of change that overcomes strong adversity – no matter what. I was forced to question – How could Mandela not be driven to despair or madness when taking rocks from one side of a quarry to the other, only to be told to return them the next day? How could his philosophy of “Each one, teach one” be kept alive when the only place to do this was by writing on the dirt floor of a cave called the university? His shared commitment to his people and to making life better for everyone was their driving force, their beacon of light in an otherwise dark existence.
The positive message that I gained from the prisoner who led our tour is that as human beings we can use our negative experiences to inspire others to be the change that we wish to see in the world. That is in a nut shell the essence of Mandela’s life.
I really do believe that Mandela’s life is the epitome of this, which is why so many people crave to see his cell. They crave to see where he once was in order to realize that any person can overcome horrible situations in their lives. For me, seeing his cell helped me even more to understand his drive to impact the world. It’s incredible to see his journey and how he has become the inspiring person that he is known to be today. More importantly, I believe, all those who visit Robben Island, or read about Mandela’s life can’t help but want to be better people.
In a world lacking in heroes Mandela is probably the last pure hero we have.
My prayers are with him this evening. May God’s will be done.