8th December 2013
Dear Global Social Work Colleagues:
Since the news of his death on Thursday December 5th 2013, I have been trying to find the words to express my feelings about the loss of Nelson Mandela. As South Africa and the world prepare to say goodbye to Madiba, I have recalled that some of my earliest social actions were protests made in response to his imprisonment and the horrors of apartheid in South Africa.
I am proud to say that here in the United States, a proud social worker, Ronald Dellums, MSW, who was from northern California was a key member of the US Congress, who led the fight which resulted in the US finally establishing sanctions against South Africa.
Shortly after his release from prison in 1990 Mandela chose to visit Boston.
He came to Boston because we were the first city in the United States to take a stand against apartheid by imposing sanctions on companies and banks that conducted business with the South African government. Boston was also a place where students protested on college campuses about their universities endowments divesting in South Africa.
On that day over 250,000 people filled the Boston Commons to hear a newly freed Mandela’s speech.
Mandela represented what is possible in the human spirit.
Madiba… Nelson Mandela- was truly a giant among women and men. He was by no means a saint nor did he aspire to be viewed as such.
My minister, Jay Williams ,at Boston’s historic Union United Methodist Church , ( Mandela had himself attended a Methodist boarding school ) in his remarks this past Sunday in celebrating Mandela’s life that “he was larger than life because he was in fact human “.
He was the first to admit his shortcomings and his human frailties and that is what helped to make him that much more impressive !
He held a nation and its future in his hands and turned what might have been chaos and revenge and retribution into truth and ultimately reconciliation.
There is much that can be learned from the life of Nelson Mandela !
His commitment to truth and reconciliation altered the course of a nation’s history.
Given the circumstances of his life—that the apartheid government of South Africa forced him to spend 27 years in prison mostly on Robben Island confined to a tiny cell,separated him from his wife ,trained social worker ,Winnie Mandela and his children —he had every right to be bitter and hateful towards his persecutors. Yet he refused to hate. He refused to even consider replacing White domination with Black domination.
Confounding many of his supporters, Mandela went to great lengths to forgive his oppressors in order to achieve reconciliation among South Africans of all races,classes and sexual orientation .
His life serves as an inspiration to all people who believe that human beings regardless of our station in life—have dignity and worth and deserve to live our lives in ways that are meaningful to us.
For many, it is hard to comprehend the lives, and sacrifices of individuals such as Nelson Mandela, Dr.Martin Luther King, Jr., Golda Meir, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Ghandhi, Jane Addams and Mother Teresa to name a few, all of whom were transformative and transcendent individuals and human beings.
They were individuals who moved by faith, moved by a sense of destiny, by what they believed was possible. They knew that their lives were finite—that their time on Earth was limited, but they had a vision of accomplishments that would live on far beyond their time.
Nelson Mandela was not only a man, he was an extraordinary human being,but he was a human being none the less, and he always wanted people to realize that they too could do great things.
Because there was a Nelson Mandela, apartheid in South Africa as a means of governing is a thing of the past.
South Africa now is comprised of those who are known as the “Born Frees” , as hose young people who were born after the end of apartheid are called.
Because there was a Nelson Mandela, all South Africans as a people are free to struggle to find better lives without the yoke of apartheid around their necks.
Yes we all have a limited amount of time on this planet. What we do with that time truly defines who we are.
We can spend our time accumulating money and wealth and at the end of our existence see the sum of our lives measured by the one who “has the most toys”, or we can measure our lives by what we have done to make this planet a better place to live for our fellow human beings and for future generations.
So perhaps it is best that I let the words of Madiba speak for themselves:
Nelson Mandela Quotes
“Difficulties break some men but make others No axe is sharp enough to cut the soul of a sinner who keeps on trying, one armed with the hoe that he will rise even in the end.”
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
“If I had my time over I would do the same again. So would any man who dares call himself a man.”
“I like friends who have independent minds because they tend to make you see problems from all angles.”
“Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people.”
“A fundamental concern for others in our individual and community lives would go a long way in making the world the better place we so passionately dream of.”
“Everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to and passionate about what they do.”
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”
“Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I feel down and got back up again.”
In closing I am reminded of one of my favorite poems written by the great American
poet and writer, Dr. Maya Angelou, entitled :
“Ailey, Baldwin, Floyd, Killens, and Mayfield”
(Maya Angelou, 5th October 2000
When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.
When great trees fall
small things recoil into silence,
eroded beyond fear.
When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
gnaws on kind words
Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
dependent upon their
nurture,now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
radiance, fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold caves.
And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be better.
For they existed.
Rest in peace Madiba ..job well done !
In Solidarity and in the spirit of ubuntu –
Gary Bailey, DH.L(h.c), MSW , ACSW