Seven Lessons from Hosting the Nelson Mandela Day Celebration

Growing up in Africa, I knew very well the struggle my fathers and forefathers fought for me to have the freedom I have today. These reminders were in songs, dance, stories and in books.

I remember very well just before my eleventh birthday when Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as the President of the Republic of South Africa. It was a great day, not only for South Africa but also for the rest of the world. I remember my grandfather talking about Mandela being in Zambia and his affiliation with our first President, Dr Kenneth Kaunda, who is also a freedom fighter and helped Zambia to gain its independence in 1964.

The First Lesson: ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’

Someone during the celebrations asked who Nelson Mandela was. This young man was in his twenties. It is very important for young people to understand our history and the price other people paid for us to have this freedom. Civil Rights activists and people like Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks and Ghandi to name just a few, played a major role for us to be where we are today.

The Second Lesson: Some people believe he was a terrorist.

Nelson Mandela was arrested, charged and sent to prison in June 1964. These days, a lot of people do not know why he was arrested. The injustice and ill treatment of blacks in South Africa was rampant. Just imagine, someone coming into your house, telling you that he will take over your household. Your children will be forced to learn to speak a different language, they will go to certain schools and he will dictate what they will learn. If you have to go to the toilet, you will need to ask for permission and if you want to visit your friends or relatives out of town, you will need written permission.

When you read history books it’s very hard not to be angry but anger does not solve problems. Like Madiba often said. “Having resentment is like drinking poison and hoping for the other person to die”

Now imagine if this happened in Australia or France, the June 16th 1976 uprising, that began in Soweto and spread countrywide profoundly changing the socio-political landscape in South Africa.

When the language of Afrikaans alongside English was made compulsory as a medium of instruction in schools in 1974, black students began mobilizing themselves. On the 16th of June 1976, over 7000 students, mobilized by the South African Students Movement ‘s Action Committee, marched peacefully to demonstrate and protest against the Government’s directive. The march was meant to culminate at a rally in Orlando Stadium.

On their pathway they were met by heavily armed police who fired teargas and later live ammunition on demonstrating students.

Images of the police firing on peacefully demonstrating students led to international revulsion against South Africa as its brutality was exposed. The end result was 1600 students died because they did not want to be taught the language of the people oppressing them.

Mandela always wanted peaceful negotiations before other options but was always refused an audience with the Government until years later when South Africa was on the brink of a civil war.

The Third Lesson: Not everyone understands what Mandela stood for. Mandela stood for equality, justice and peace for all. He was an inclusive man. I love this quote in which he says : “During my lifetime, I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony with equal opportunities. It is an ideal, which I hope to live for achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal, for which I am prepared to die.”

The Fourth Lesson: Some people think that if you are pro Mandela, you must hate white people. I love Mandela and I love people of all races. If you treat me with respect, love and dignity, I will treat you the same, regardless of the amount of pigmentation in your skin. Not all black people are bad and not all white people are racist. We only have one race, the human race. I just have no tolerance for stupidity and I won’t entertain that.

The Fifth Lesson: Why are we not united as one. There is this great lie that certain people are superior to others due to skin colour only and they should dominate people with different skin colours. These lies are found in many religious and other cultural teachings.

I also disagree with movements like ‘Black Lives Matter’ as that separates skin colour again. All lives Matter . We should be teaching love and respect, integration, not segregation. The only way to improve all lives is respect and integration, irrespective of religion, colour, gender or cultural background.

The Sixth Lesson: The quote from Marianne Williamson, which was included in Nelson Mandela’s inauguration speech, should be taught to every young person. “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves: Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
If young people can believe in themselves that they have the power to make a difference and can spend 67 minutes on the 18th of July, (Nelson Mandela worked 67 years to better the world) to do simple acts of kindness, we would solve so many problems.

Like Mandela once said “Your time on earth is limited, use it to do something great for your country”

The Seventh Lesson is Ubuntu. Ever since I learned about Mandela, his flaws and successes, I realized he was human; he wasn’t perfect but a Saint in the making. I realized that his values and my own are aligned. I realized that I too cannot and will not turn a blind eye to the suffering of others. That you and I can use our time on earth to help in making this world a better place.

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