My iPhone, which I usually leave on silent during the night, went ping in the early hours of the morning. A text from the BBC app letting me know that Nelson Mandela had died at 95. In the morning I searched out my tatty old copy of Nelson Mandela’s book, Long Walk to Freedom of which I had read many years ago as an undergrad (or maybe younger) I have a clear memory of sitting on a train while reading this inspirational autobiography.
“I had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth, but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand indignities and a thousand unremembered moments produced in me an anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people. There was no particular day on which I said, Henceforth I will devote myself to the liberation of my people; instead, I simply found myself doing so, and could not do otherwise.”
Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom
Nelson Mandela was a freedom fighter in South Africa, his strength and belief in himself and the injustice of apartheid led a nation while the world watched and a scrawny young girl read on a train going somewhere, nowhere. I can’t remember the details of that book but I can remember the feeling of being at awe of Mandela’s humility, his ability to truly forgive without bitterness or regret. I will never achieve one of my life’s ambitions, to sit down and chat with Nelson Mandela, but he has left an imprint on the world, and the world is a better place because he was in it.
As Fergal Keane (BBC foreign correspondent and author of Season of Blood a Rwandan Journey – another inspirational and informative book) pointed out on BBC News late last night, “To the wider world he represented many things, not least an icon of freedom but also the most vivid example in modern times of the power of forgiveness and reconciliation. Back in the early 1990s, I remember then President, FW De Klerk, telling me he how he found Mandela’s lack of bitterness “astonishing”.”