There are many tributes going on as the world celebrates Madiba, Mr. Nelson Mandela’s life and joins in the mourning of the passing away of this giant of a man. The huge enormous story of his many accomplishments is based on a corner stone of forgiveness and reconciliation. I am using the loving name his country gave him, as we bid our fond farewell.
Madiba spent 27 years, nearly one third of his long life, in a prison cell. That is an enormous length of time to nurture the wounds, stew in venom and rage, and vow for revenge. But Madiba forgave, in the prison and out of the prison and he reconciled with his enemies. In prison, he converted several guards. (I would not have believed it to be possible – remember the famous Stanford Prison Experiments by Zimbardo)! But Madiba managed it. In the prison, children were not allowed. But once Winnie, Madiba’s wife, visited with their grand daughter, Zaziwe. A guard, Christo Brand helped cover the child with a blanket and smuggle her in, so Madiba can see her (Brand has written a book “Mandela, My Prisoner, My Friend” and the story also appears in the movie, “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”). There is a similar story of his guard, James Gregory (and another movie “Goodbye Bafana” about it). In 1995, Madiba used the game of Rugby to send his country, his message of reconciliation. Rugby was an all white sport in South Africa, with an all white team. Often the black people rooted for New Zealand’s “All Blacks” team. Madiba donned Afrikaans Springbok team shirt and gave personal message to each player, wishing him good luck. It was magical. The energy in the team soared and they won. A nation teetering on the brink of a civil war had something else to strive for, peace and unity. Today, both teams, the All Blacks and the Springboks are mourning the loss of Madiba and will observe moments of silence.
And let us not forget that Madiba insisted on justice. Forgiveness cannot come if injustice continues to occur and perpetrators continue to abuse power. Forgiveness can only occur after the balance of power is restored and then one makes a conscious choice to give up revenge and thus refuse to be held hostage to the past and to the perpetrators, and chooses instead to reconcile, in favor of peace and for future. Forgiveness is not an act that comes from cowardice. It is an act of courage that follows the previous act of courage to pursue and seek justice and fairness.