Nearly two decades earlier, there was an unforgettably historic atmosphere of celebration on June 30, 1990 and I was there as the ecstatic crowd at the Oakland Coliseum chanted, "Free, Free, Free Nelson Mandela!" My father the late Alex Godwin, my brothers, Paul, Johnny, Robert and sisters Mary, Margaret, Vivian Godwin and I leaned forward to soak in every electrifying word spoken by the recently freed Nelson Mandela. My young children, John, Jordan and Brianna Jackson picked blackberries from our backyard in the hills of Oakland and begged us to share them with Mandela. I think my dad; "Papa G" ate the berries by proxy for Mandela. The kids were thrilled that the basket was empty!
Oakland, California was the last stop on the 1990, American tour of the man who would become South Africa's first black President. Mandela had been recently freed from a 27 year incarceration in South Africa's Victor Verster prison for his outspoken stance against the racist practice of apartheid. The first call for sanctions against South Africa actually emanated from the City of Berkeley, located in the California Bay Area. The exhausted Mandela was committed to making the final stop in Oakland because longshoremen there refused to unload many of the South African goods from cargo ships at the Port.
As his wife, Winnie and Congressman Ronald Dellums escorted him to the stage, Mandela's salt and pepper hair was the only tell-tale sign of the wear and tear he endured over the previous 27 years in captivity. Under a bright, multi-colored umbrella, Mandela stood tall, proud and still quite handsome as he acknowledged the support of California Bay Area officials and citizens and appealed for continued sanctions in order to achieve victory in the fight against apartheid. Mandela also acknowledged the contributions of the American Indians who desired to meet with him and apologized that his schedule could not at the time accommodate them. He promised to return and help them with their struggles.
I freshly recall the eloquence with which Mandela passionately admonishing the crowd that his country was at a "crucial" historical juncture and that he would not be deterred. He also said that he felt as if he had been "an old battery recharged to the age of 35" because of the actions of the people of America. That was the first and last time I actually saw tears stream down my father's face. Papa G said that he never thought he would live to see the day that Mandela was set free. Papa G died the following Spring.
Mandela seemed to peer into the very souls of each of his 58,000 multi-cultural supporters with kindest eyes which were later shielded with dark shades to protect them from the searing, California sun. Each of us knew that in his face we had all come face to face with our deepest hopes, our greatest fears and there we stood triumphant, yet humbled by his unfathomable sufferings.
Mandela concluded his speech directly addressing the African-Americans who were present, "You are our blood brothers and sisters; you are our comrades in the struggle; remember that we respect you, we admire you and above all, we love you all."
The impact of Mandela's freedom and eventual election to presidency of South Africa necessitated many changes to the workplace culture of the entire country. An article in Public Manager, Fall 2003 reflected that:
"Since April 1994, the dawn of democracy in South Africa brought challenges and opportunities in the public service. Remarkable opportunities were created for the previously disadvantaged as a result of the determination to eliminate racism, sexism and religious oppression in the corridors of power. The enforcement of these "isms" contributed to the promotion of personnel practices that operated at the expense of most of the workforce-particularly for speakers of diverse African languages."
Today, as we celebrate the life and passing of the man whose basket was filled with bountiful berries of love, forgiveness and hope, I pause to share these brief reflections with a new generation. John is now 28, Jordan 25 and Brianna 24. The basket is oh so empty! We have all eaten Mandela's precious berries and it is our prayer that you will plant new seeds, cultivate hope and harvest the dreams of a legend who graced your lifetime and who is now indeed "Free, free, free."