22.01.2014 Connections

Honouring a Great Soul

Jeremy Ball remembers Nelson Mandela

Free Nelson Mandela
Free free
Free free free
Nelson Mandela
Free Nelson Mandela

I grew up on the edge of London in the 1980s with this song blaring out on the airwaves. It seemed anyone who was cool or semi-famous was campaigning for Nelson Mandela's release and the end of apartheid. Streets and buildings by the dozen were named or renamed after Nelson Mandela and his cohorts. Rock stars wore T-shirts, wrote songs and held huge concerts in support of this cause.

For me, having been born in South Africa and growing up with symbols of Africa all around me in books, pictures and sculpture, my most vivid memories from childhood were visits to South Africa where I felt the aliveness of the countryside and the African people.

I remember watching the live coverage of Mandela's release on February 11 1990. This was history in the making - surely we were watching events almost as epic as Jesus in Jerusalem live and direct into our homes.

A few months later, my parents moved back to South Africa living just a few kilometres down the road from Victor Verster prison where Mandela was held in relative comfort for his last two years of imprisonment, Mandela was refusing to be released until all his conditions had been met. They weren't greedy conditions, only what was just for his people. Mandela was not to be martyred but to lead his people into emancipation, walking even further than Moses and into the promised land of freedom. Oh, what a sonnet to sew into the collective consciousness.

For me, Nelson Mandela was a Herculean figure of the human psyche. And now after having lived his life completely for the people, not just his people but all of humanity, this great being is really and finally free. Let the song sing out; Free free free Nelson Mandela.

In 2002, I had the great honour to be in the presence of Madiba. Returning from seeing the Dalai Lama in Austria, my sister invited me to assist (by holding an umbrella over the camera) in a documentary she was making. It was an excuse for me to be in the presence of the great man, making a private visit to Princess Diana last resting place. So, for a few brief moments, I was in Mandela's presence with just six or seven other people. The peace I felt emanating from him as he stepped out of the car told me of a man who had faced his demons front on without flinching. He walked with the presence of one who knew the secret of the natural law and whose life was a living embodiment of the Lord's prayer, in particular the line, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven.

Never has one lived so well and so fully as Madiba, the Great Lion of Africa, who became a champion of the human soul. Known to the world as Nelson Mandela, he was born into the royal line of the Thembu tribe, a Xhosa- speaking people, and named Rolihlahla by his father from whom he inherited his stubborn sense of justice. Rolihlahla is a Xhosa word colloquially meaning "troublemaker", aptly chosen as the South African authorities would later find out. Mandela's father died when he was young and his devout Christian mother sent him to a Methodist school where African children where given an English name on their first day due to the English bias of the education.

As we know, Mandela once again received a highly formative name, Nelson, after Britain's unflinching Admiral, who repelled seemingly far greater forces from England's shores. Mandela later became known as Madiba by his clansmen, a great honour as it is the name of his clan within the Thembu tribe and Xhosa nation. An honour like this is rare and bestowed only on those who give their life for their tribe and embody the blessing of the ancestors.

Later in life Mandela was quoted as saying, "What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead." Madiba is a royal clan and this regality and self assurance made it impossible for Mandela to submit to the supremacy of the white government in South Africa, but also won him great respect from his political opponents. They respected his dignity and poise but they also knew they were in the presence of a being far grander than themselves no matter what their law book said.

P.J.Bosch, the Afrikaans prosecutor in Mandela's 1962 trial, asked to see him alone before sentence was pronounced and then shook his hand and wished him well. Later, on Robben Island, Mandela won the respect and admiration of his prison guards, not least by speaking with them in Afrikaans, their native tongue. It also seems that Mandela was well aware of the destiny fate had decreed for him when, at 33, he announced to his colleagues in the African National Congress (ANC) that he looked forward to becoming the first black president of South Africa.

Yet Mandela's regality was of the highest kind as it was coupled with the humility that comes from acting in service to the people and of the people. On release from prison, he could have sought out personal comfort and prestige but instead of taking a palatial home he opted for a Johannesburg suburb. In his holidays, he returned to the countryside of his youth.

Mandela was offered release from prison, on several occasions, earlier than his final release if he renounced violence from black Africans against the government. His response was to tell South African President P.W. Botha that the government should first stop its violence. Later, F.W de Klerk, Botha's successor, proposed creating an interim government in which whites would retain a veto. Mandela, the man who could not be bought by either side, vetoed this suggestion; he did not need any patronising babysitters to help him lead his motherland.

What is so remarkable about Mandela and the way he lived his life is that he could remain so steadfast to his own principles and against his political adversaries, yet see beyond the mental positioning and into the humanity of the person he faced. As I mentioned earlier, almost without exception, he gained the respect of his captors and opponents and, very importantly, black people from all tribes of Africa. He is credited with uniting a nation that could easily have descended into looting and civil war after his release in 1990. In fact, there were almost no reprisals or political violence from this point through to Mandela's election as president in 1994 and beyond. There can be no greater example of fierce love or strong compassion than the humanity displayed in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the brainchild of Archbishop Desmond Tutu but put into action by Mandela as incumbent president. One of the last acts of de Klerk, the outgoing white President, was to grant clemency to 4,000 police and security force members who had been involved in operations not unlike the current Israeli forces in Palestine. Mandela repealed this mandate but did not try the guilty parties in a normal court. Instead, the police officers accused of murder and torture were made to face the families of their victims and confess the truth and, in many cases, receive complete forgiveness from those families. In the searingly wise words of the commission: "True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the hurt, the truth…because in the end only an honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing. Superficial reconciliation can bring only superficial healing." Through it, both aggressor and victim were able to find lasting peace and the nation's wounds were at least partially exposed to the light and cleansed.

Nelson Mandela gave up his life firstly for the greater good of his African brothers and sisters when he faced up to the darkness of apartheid. His life became everyone's when, on defeating apartheid through his strength of character and indescribable integrity and goodness, he completely forgave his captors and even befriended them. He chose the path of cooperation over seeking revenge or taking advantage. Nelson Mandela served 27 years in prison, 18 years of them on Robben Island, South Africa's equivalent of Alcatraz.

If ever a quote summed up Nelson Mandela's message and gift to humanity this is it: "For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others".

Mandela's life and this sentiment should be the opening statement each day in schools, churches and parliaments across the world. Let his life be an example to each of us to strive in our own way towards the freedom and emancipation of all our brothers and sisters in every corner of the world.

Mandela is now free to join the great paragons of love in action, Gandhiji, Martin Luther King Jr, Mother Teresa and more, beaming down at us, cajoling and encouraging us from their heavenly abode.

Jeremy Ball

At 26, following a “shamanic intervention”, Jeremy closed his business and left London to visit sacred sites and elders, later creating Transformational Tours and SacredFire.

When not roaming mother earth, you will find Jeremy at home in Byron Bay's hinterland, playing with his children and planning the next adventure. jeremy@transformationaltours.com.au