S.A. and the world mark Nelson Mandela’s 93rd
By PAT WATSON
Amandla! That was the Zulu shout on June 18, 1990 in downtown Toronto when thousands headed for Queen’s Park to welcome Nelson Mandela following his release from Robben Island prison earlier that year after his 27 years of imprisonment.
Canadians had something to be proud of, since leading up to that day, under the prime minister at that time, Progressive Conservative Brian Mulroney, the nation had been a standout in taking a position against apartheid South Africa.
However, it was after much pressure and numerous local grassroots demonstrations calling for Canada to stop trading with the country as long as it was under an apartheid regime that Mulroney made his stand against apartheid.
It is also yet another reference point indicating that our current governing party is not your parents’ Conservative party. After all, it was current Calgary West Conservative Member of Parliament and former Reform MP Rob Anders who stood as the lone objector during the vote to make Mandela an honorary Canadian citizen, labeling the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize recipient a ‘terrorist and a communist’. Anders, one of the youngest elected MPs, ran for election in Calgary West with the blessing of Stephen Harper who previously represented that riding, and who has praised Anders as “a true reformer and a true conservative.” But I digress.
The president of South Africa’s first multi-racial government where all South Africans were eligible to vote, Mandela held the post for five years beginning in 1994. On Monday, South Africa and indeed the rest of the world joined in celebrating Mandela’s 93rd birthday. The United Nations has designated July 18 as Mandela Day. But in keeping with Mandela’s essential life mission, the day is not solely to celebrate the man but also a day for all world citizens to volunteer their time in support of good causes for 67 minutes, a nod to Mandela’s 67 years in active politics.
This act of ubuntu, the African belief in giving to others, even for a few short minutes will no doubt plant seeds of inspiration in the years to come which the spirit of Mandela continues to foster. His words remind us that when it comes to the decision and the action needed to improve our lot in this world, “it’s in our hands.”
To understand his purpose in life is to see that there is hope for the world despite all the foolishness and mean-spiritedness that seems at times to be the guiding policy for how the world operates.
Among his memorable statements, Mandela has said: “I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair.”
Apartheid is now history in Suth Africa, but the road to equity of the nation’s aboriginal peoples, the Nana, the San and the Xhosa, Zulu, and Ndebele among others, remains a long one. So optimism will be needed to keep moving forward.
South Africa got a boost on the world stage last summer when it hosted the FIFA World Cup Soccer – the vuvuzelas are still ringing in many people’s ears. However, while the unemployment rate has fallen slightly from the near 27 per cent average of recent years, it is still high, currently hovering around 25 per cent. And similar to North African nations where restless youth have been pushing for social and economic change, the young in South Africa are growing impatient for better employment and other earning opportunities. For a country as rich in resources as South Africa is, this impatience is understandable. So we should not be surprised if we again hear them take to the streets with shouts of ‘Amandla’. In English, the word translates to ‘power’.
A note on American politics…
The ongoing reality program called ‘Washington Politics’ continues to be among the most watchable American exports on the airwaves. It would make for good entertainment alone if it were not for the hard fact that all the posturing and gamesmanship by America’s elected officials as they try to make points over their debt ceiling agreement by the Aug. 2 deadline – so Shakespearean in their bombastic and haughty way – didn’t translate to real effects on human lives even beyond the U.S. borders.