There was always Mandela.

Yesterday Nelson Mandela joined the ancestors.  Madiba, rest in peace.  This is another passing-of-a-generation moment.

Earlier this morning as I savored my cup of Earl Gray, almond milk, and honey, I heard NPR interview a South African educator who grew up in Mandela’s village and escaped apartheid in 1976 by moving to New England. “There was always Mandela,” he responded to the interviewer’s question about Mandela’s effect on people in the villages of South Africa. In 1956, his father had been Mandela’s comrade-in-arms. His grandfather had been an anti-apartheid activist in the 1940s.  “There was never a time in my life when there was not Mandela.”

His statement made me pause and reflect that for many of us outside Africa, Mandela was at the forefront of liberation struggles for much of the twentieth century. For me, knowing that “Mandela is” came in the late 1950s when my teen-aged self sat on the hall steps on weekends and listened to my parents discuss African and SE Asian liberation movements (and the Civil Rights Movement stateside) with other black GIs as they debated post-WWII politics over coffee, beer, and bourbon at our house in Berlin, Germany. Two African students from Congo who attended the Free University (just down the street) always brought “the African perspective” to those discussions.  In ways different and yet similar, like the air I breathe, “there was always Mandela.”

I like what this South African educator told the children at the Massachusetts school where he is headmaster. “We must all find Mandela, look for Mandela, inside, in ourselves. The new leaders must come from ourselves.”

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