One of my two brothers is named Mandela. He has an English name that goes on all his documents but Mandela is what everyone calls him. It never occurred to me growing up that it was strange his name was ‘imported’ all the way from South Africa. Some years ago, I also met this military cadet who liked my sister, a good person as far as I could tell and his name is also Mandela. Both of them, like so many other people with the name were born at a time when Mandela’s name echoed the loudest around the world as a symbol of hope and freedom.
Nelson Mandela is the type of person we should all aspire to be. He was flesh and blood evidence that one person could be strong, compassionate, kind, courageous and all those things we are often told we cannot possess all at once. He did not need to take on an entire system that was designed to ensure he would always be a second class citizen in his own country. He did not need to give up 27 years of his life existing in cells that in actuality could imprison only the body but not the essence of the man. Mandela was educated well enough and intelligent enough to have done reasonably well if he had simply settled for the best life any black man was allowed in apartheid South Africa. Like most of us, he was presented with a difficult choice. Unlike most people however, he chose the path that no sane self-preserving person would have chosen. For Mandela, freedom and the dignity of his people was something he could fight for and he chose to fight.
The truth is that a lot of us feel reasonably comfortable with the century we find ourselves and what is obtainable in it. Those who are uncomfortable have to choose to either to ignore the discomfort or become more uncomfortable today for a comfortable tomorrow. We all know that there are a lot of problems that cannot simply go away on their own but we choose to cower in our air conditioned offices, enjoying our imported something or everything, and retiring to our high walled houses which effectively block out reality at the end of each day. I am not saying we should all pick up placards and march till our feet have blisters while shouting chants till our throats go hoarse. I am asking that we always remember that things can always be better. I am asking that whatever it is you do- whether crunching numbers, creating outfits that slay or working with test tubes- you do it with the consciousness that you can be better. I am asking that you channel your energy into being the things that enable your community to become a better place.
Nelson Mandela came, saw, warred, spoke, inspired, freed, and he conquered. The truth is there won’t be another Nelson Rohilahla Mandela. There can be a you however, whoever you are, wherever you are from. The world needs to burst with songs of Sekou, Bonang, Ibrahim, Wambui and the variety of names on the African continent. We must learn to not just dare to dream, we must learn to dare to do. In the words of the great Nelson Mandela ‘May your choices reflect your hopes and not your fears’.