Today President Barack Obama said that former South African president Nelson Mandela was his hero and that he had spoken to Mandela. Obama who called Mandela by his clan name, Madiba, said that the international icon would linger on for the ages. Mandela has been in a South African hospital for 22 days as he battles an upper respiratory infection that recurred three times this year.
Mandela said that he believes his lungs were damaged from being forced to sleep in a damp prison cell during his 27 years of imprisonment by the South African government. President Obama made his comments during a press conference in Dakar, Senegal, as he continues on his visit to Africa. The Mandela hospitalization has created a media frenzy in South Africa and has come under attack by Mandela’s oldest living child who feels that the press is not respecting proper decorum. Makaziwe Mandela has asked the world to respect her father’s privacy as he struggles to fight the lung infection.
The request for privacy for the family is understood; however, worldwide interest and concern for Mandela is the cause of the international media interest. From the beginning of Mandela’s extraordinary career he has been the subject of intense press coverage. Mandela’s 70th birthday on July 18th, 1988, was the subject of intense press coverage as the BBC organized a Nelson Mandela 70th birthday tribute at London’s Wembly Stadium that drew millions in support of his release from prison.
President Obama said that Mandela is a globally acknowledged heroic figure. His life is brilliantly recorded in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, and in his own words Mandela gives the reading public details about his life and his work. The excellent autobiography also gives honest information about his family and his personal life. He faced the loss of his mother and his first born son while he was in prison and he was not allowed to attend their funerals. He recounts each episode with dignity and humility despite the intense pain these events caused him. He was informed that his wife, Winnie Mandela, was the head of the Mandela United Football Club and had been charged with kidnapping and assault. Though some advised him to divorce her, Mandela raised funds for her defense and said he would remain loyal to her until she was found guilty.
Those who are truly interested in Mandela’s life should go to the bookstore and purchase a copy of Long Walk to Freedom. The only thing the autobiography does not capture is being able to listen to Mandela speak in person. There is a quality in his voice that can only be felt when his words are delivered into the human ear. Having heard him speak this reporter will never forget the experience. Nelson Mandela taught us to live and let live.
In 1984 students at the Ecole Normale Superieure in Debate asked their professor to allow them to write compositions about Nelson Mandela and why he should be released from prison in South Africa. Although the class policy was to avoid topics on religion and politics the professor agreed to allow the students to present their arguments on the merits of freeing Mandela as part of the debate topics.
The debates were held in the college auditorium at the end of the year and were recorded for history. Listening to the African students explain why Mandela should be released from prison 10 years before he became the president of South Africa is a lesson in why there is wisdom in the youth. The college students who participated in the debate defenses at the Ecole Normale Superieure loved Nelson Mandela from West Africa to South Africa and all points on the map. He was truly a universally loved figure.
The Nelson Mandela Debates at the Ecole Normale Superieure and the end apartheid stamps issued by the government were produced at the height of the Anti-Apartheid movement in Africa. Today the world holds vigil as Mandela fights the upper respiratory infection that has returned three times this year and caused his hospitalization.
As the world waits it is good to remember that Nelson Mandela spoke in person to a crowd of Americans at the Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta shortly after he was released from prison. For those who were part of that crowd it was a magical night. After he spoke the gates of the stadium opened and 50,000 people flooded the streets of Atlanta, holding hands, singing, hugging, and being kind to each other. It was a sight to see. It was the Mandela positive effect.
Imagine being imprisoned in an 8 foot cell for 27 years and shaking the hand of the man who held you there. It was Nelson Mandela’s ability to forgive his enemies that saved his nation. When others wanted to punish and target their political opponents Mandela stood up against the idea and he told the workers in his government that they were all welcome and the past was the past. However for Nelson Mandela his leadership did not end with words. It was his actions that inspired so many. For example, when he was chastised for not picking up his government paychecks as president his first response was that he was being paid too much and he gave one third of his salary to charity.
As leaders from around the world are planning to gather in South Africa in July of 2013 the South African Embassy in Washington is reminding the public that Nelson Mandela Day will be celebrated on July 18, 2013. It will be a call to serve others. Perhaps the greatest gift that Mandela gave to the world was his ability to serve others. When his term as president was over he did not attempt to hold on to power. He quietly walked away from the office of president and turned over power. Having lived and worked in and out of Africa for over a quarter of a century, the present writer can appreciate what a tremendous act that was.
And there is more. A remarkable man in every possible way, Nelson Mandela serves as a role model for world leaders and common citizens. He is the leader that represents the best in his people. Although the time that remains is short, Mandela still inspires the world.
As of this writing doctors are reporting that Mandela remains in critical condition. As crowds gather outside his hospital in South Africa they are being asked to remember the great things that Nelson Mandela did for South Africa and the world. It is a sad time. Yet is also a time to be thankful for his life.
Any reader who wants to know Nelson Mandela should read his excellent autobiography that was published in 1994 when he was 72 and was started 20 years earlier in 1974. The manuscript was confiscated by the South African government. Mandela said that it was the work of his fellow prisoners that helped him to retain parts of the work that he was able to put back together and to publish.
Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, about his life. It is an honest autobiography. All the details of his life are included in the brilliant 638 page autobiography. “A truly wonderful autobiography, sharp, literate, unpretentious, and as emotionally involving as it is informative,” writes the Chicago Tribune.
The book is more than words on a page.
The autobiography is the essence of a man’s life that explains, as no other person can, how he managed to survive for 27 years with his sanity intact and his spirit unbroken. “I dedicate this book to my six children, Madiba and Makaziwe (my first daughter), who are now deceased, and to Makgatho, Makaziwe, Zenani, and Zindzi, whose support and love I treasure; to my twenty-one grandchildren and three great-grandchildren who give me great pleasure; and to all my comrades, friends, and fellow South Africans whom I serve and whose courage, determination, and patriotism remain my source of inspiration,” Mandela said.
In a world that frequently likes to destroy heroes Nelson Mandela serves as an indestructible voice for the ages. For a great summer read get a copy of the autobiography of Nelson Mandela.
Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela, Nelson Mandela, Little, Brown and Company, New York, 1994.