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Text and meaning in the life of Nelson Mandela (part 1 of 3)

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“Let each know that for each the body, the mind and the soul have been freed to fulfill themselves.” ––Nelson Mandela, Presidential Inauguration Address

When Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela stood before the people of South Africa on May 10, 1994, as its first black and democratic president, the moment represented much more than a personal victory. It embodied the kind of glimpse into humanity’s potential for harmonious coexistence that history rarely provides.

Neither the concept nor the practice of persecution were invented the day Mr. Mandela began as a middle-aged man serving his 27-year prison sentence on Robben Island in 1963. There are nevertheless, in his case, the notable distinctions of excruciating sacrifice, phenomenal grace, and uncommon personal evolution which moved almost 100 world leaders to attend his memorial in Johannesburg on Human Rights Day, December 10, 2013.

A Transformative Vision

Others have indeed been captured as official prisoners of official war and then later rose to a semblance of power as senators, representatives, presidents, kings, and even queens. Others have faced violent scorn when sharing with the world a revelation of healing peace and many have been assassinated for doing so. Nelson Mandela, whom many in the world now embraces so affectionately as “Madiba,” experienced a transformative vision in total contrast to the apartheid reality embedded in his country at the time. He proclaimed it, battled for it, survived the numerous tolls it took on his flesh and spirit, and finally, as the world looked on in awe, saw it implemented through his own being.

In his inauguration address, Mr. Mandela identified his country as “the skunk of the world.” He did so because of the wrath of international shaming that occurred after the global community learned first of the particularly insidious nature of racial oppression practiced in his homeland; and then of his own imprisonment for daring to challenge that oppression. As stated in his inauguration address:

“That spiritual and physical oneness we all share with this common homeland explains the depth of the pain we all carried in our hearts as we saw our country tear itself apart in a terrible conflict, and as we saw it spurned, outlawed and isolated by the peoples of the world, precisely because it has become the universal base of the pernicious ideology and practice of racism and racial oppression.”

Though he addressed his country by name throughout his inauguration address, much of what he stated was at that time and is today applicable to any number of countries. This same observation was not lost on President Barack Obama in his eulogy for the great man: “Around the world today, men and women are still imprisoned for their political beliefs, and are still persecuted for what they look like, and how they worship, and who they love. That is happening today.”

Likewise, when President Mandela outlined the path that would prove crucial to his country’s growth and survival, he could have been speaking for numerous others then as now.

NEXT: Text and Meaning in the life of Nelson Mandela Part 2

by Aberjhani
author of The River of Winged Dreams
and co-author of ELEMENTAL The Power of Illuminated Love

More on Nelson Mandela and Aberjhani’s Text and Meaning Series


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