Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Mandela Continues to Inspire

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column, Saturday,  July 24 / 10

Zack Gross

As fans watched the World Cup in person in South Africa or on television around the globe, the grace and leadership of former militant freedom-fighter, political prisoner and President Nelson Mandela was an abiding positive to all the proceedings. 

While South Africa continues to face immense challenges since the end of the racist Apartheid era, Mandela has plunged himself wholeheartedly into the task of creating a fairer and progressive society, not just as President but since his retirement as head of campaigns and organizations dedicated to fighting poverty, disease and violence.

Just recently, July 18th, Mandela reached his 92nd birthday.  He was born in 1918, the son of a tribal chief in Transkei.  Mandela was able to attend university and became a lawyer in 1942. 

He joined the African National Congress (ANC), then a resistance movement against white supremacist rule and was ultimately tried for treason in the mid- 50s. 

A portion of the ANC involved itself in violent action against the South African government and again Mandela was arrested and imprisoned in 1962, along with eight others, and this group was incarcerated until 1990. 

After years of international pressure, the Apartheid regime “unbanned” the ANC and released political prisoners.  Mandela in prison had become a powerful symbol of resistance and in 1991 became President of the ANC and South Africa, while he and former white President F.W. de Klerk were together awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

Mandela marked his time in office trying to find ways to bring together the aspirations of the black population with the wealth and skills of the white. 

The Hollywood movie, "Invictus," is a tribute to Mandela’s vision of a multi-racial South Africa, his pragmatism and charisma, as he refused to allow the new black dominated leadership to shut down the almost all-white national rugby team which hosted and then won the world cup in their country, thus reassuring whites and inspiring blacks.  This year, South Africa hosted the World Cup of football. 

While not winning the tournament, the coverage helped to focus the world community’s attention on South African culture as well as its national challenges.

Many grave issues remain to be effectively addressed, including lingering racial tensions, illiteracy, poverty, HIV/AIDS, gender imbalance and crime.  A large portion of the South African population was not able economically to participate directly in World Cup activities. 

Unemployment of the large and growing black population has led to violence against expatriate and refugee workers, such as from Zimbabwe.
When Mandela retired in August, 1999, he and his supported established the Nelson Mandela Foundation to further develop and deliver upon his legacy.

 A core activity of the Foundation is to foster dialogue around South Africa on critical social issues. 

These include:
  • the promotion of peaceful coexistence among the various groups in South Africa;
  • tackling the ignorance and spread of HIV/AIDS through community education; 
  • leadership development among young South Africans;,
  • teacher training and educational development;
  • working with Nobel Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank on investment and micro-credit strategies to fight poverty; 
  • the promotion of women’s rights; and 
  • creating opportunities through discussion between business and civil society.
This month, under the auspices of the Mandela Foundation, Ariel Dorfman, world-renowned author and human-rights activist, is spending time in South Africa speaking at various events and toiling alongside community development workers. 

Mandela and Dorfman understand that they must inspire the young to take on the development of their country. 

“I wouldn’t have been invited here if I only wrote children’s books,” he told a primary grade audience.  “But, you are the most important people that I will meet on this trip.”

Mandela’s birthday, since he turned 90, has become known internationally as Mandela Day, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations, and is dedicated to promoting the idea that each person should mark the day by doing something that will make the world a better place. 

Based upon Mandela’s lifelong effort, individuals are called upon to embrace his values of democracy, reconciliation, diversity and freedom.  Mandela has said:  “It is time for the next generation to continue our struggle against social injustice and for the rights of humanity.  It is in your hands.” 

The organization that operates Mandela Day is called 46664, in recognition of his prisoner number.

There is nothing useful in glossing over the challenges that face South Africa. Some fear that with the end of the World Cup’s excitement, there will come a period of unrest, a hangover caused by the unmet aspirations of the poor.  But one must not lose sight of how far this country has come, from when a tiny minority held tight control while the rest lived in squalor, servitude and, like Mandela, prison.

Zack Gross works for the 
Manitoba Council for International Co-operation (MCIC), a coalition of more than 40 international development organizations.

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