together from Victor-Verster Prison in Paarl, South Africa, some 70 kilometers from Capetown at 4 p.m. on February 11, 1990.
After 27 years in prison Nelson Mandela was free.
His then-wife, Winnie, accompanied him as well as Mafifi ‘Jerry’ Methula.
Mr. Methula stayed at our home for a few days a year later.
He was on a cross-Canada tour raising awareness of the need for continued support of South Africa as it struggled to create a just multi-racial society after decades suffering under the crippling social and economic impact of apartheid.
Jerry told me that he had been chosen by the African National Congress to escort their revered leader out of prison because he was the same height as Mandela.
The ANC feared an assassination attempt would be made on their leader.
Methula willingly presented himself to be Mandela’s shield.
A crowd of tens of thousands awaited Nelson Mandela later that same day in Capetown.
From the balcony of the city hall, Mandela called on his jubilant supporters to meet the challenges that still lay before them.
“Now is the time to intensify the struggle on all fronts,” Mandela proclaimed, “To relax now would be a mistake which future generations would not forgive.”
South Africans met the challenge and four years later, after the country’s first multi-racial elections on May 10, 1994, Nelson Mandela became the President of South Africa.
Through out history there have been individuals like Nelson Mandela who have shown us that we do not need to be hostages to the seemingly immutable conditions of our present.
They call us out of our complacency or despair.
They offer a vision of a tomorrow freed from the shackles that our lack of social imagination or fear have fettered us with.
A global apartheid-like economic system exists.
It forces entire regions of continents like Africa and Asia to continue to live in misery.
We must free ourselves here in the Global North from our voluntary subjugation to consumerism, which blinds us to their reality.
“Selfishness is no longer merely immoral,” states a recent paper on the environment from the Commission for Social Affairs of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, “it is becoming suicidal.”
Earlier this week organizers announced a massive fundraising concert will be held on June 27th in Hyde Park, London, England.
It will celebrate the Nobel laureate’s 90th birthday, which actually is on July 18th.
Mandela will be present.
He knows that he is still needed.
We are needed too.
Now in 2008, as in 1990, I think Nelson Mandela would still urge us on.
“Now is the time to intensify the struggle on all fronts. To relax now would be a mistake which future generations would not forgive.”
James Loney, a Christian Peacemaker Team member who spent 118 days as a hostage in Iraq, will be in the Yukon next week.
The Social Justice Committee will be sponsoring his speech at the Beringia Centre at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 15th.
His talk titled “Nonviolence: Path to Freedom” will focus on the challenge and hope nonviolence offers in an increasingly militarized world.
Like Mandela he prods and pushes us to believe that freedom can be achieved nonviolently.
Locally, we have also had the rare good fortune to have had people like the late Bob Couchman who have called us towards a better future.
He will be missed.