To mark the 25th anniversary of the late Nelson Mandela’s first visit to Canada in 1990, a celebratory community walk will take place next summer on a main downtown thoroughfare recently renamed after South Africa’s first Black president.
The Spirit of Mandela Freedom Walk, organized by the local Mandela Legacy Committee (MLC), will be held on June 20 on University Ave., which was recently renamed Nelson Mandela Blvd.
MLC co-chair, Lloyd McKell, said the idea for the walk is rooted in a statement Mandela made at his trial in 1964.
“I have fought against White domination, and I have fought against Black domination,” Mandela said 50 years ago. “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
McKell said that Mandela’s bold declaration five decades ago meshes with the MLC commitment to ensure that Canada is an inclusive society.
“The Freedom Walk goal is to acknowledge the progress we have made on human rights and social justice in this country and to force us to recommit ourselves to building a society that has as its vision Mandela’s vision of a society that’s free from all forms of discrimination,” he said.
Community organizations, students, families and other citizens are encouraged to take part in the walk that starts on Front St. and ends at Queen’s Park.
Toronto City Council recently approved the renaming of University Ave. to honour Mandela, who passed away last December at age 95.
“It’s important to have one of our most public roadways named after someone who was a world icon for social justice,” said McKell, a retired Toronto District School Board administrator. “I would go so far as to say we should have a monument of Mandela erected on the street bearing his name so that the memory of his distinguished life will always be present in our minds.”
McKell developed a strong interest in South Africa as a result of his association with fellow exiled students while attending the University of Toronto in the late 1960s.
“Growing up in Trinidad & Tobago, I didn’t know anything about South Africa and apartheid was just a word,” he said. “It was not until I came to Canada in 1967 as a foreign student that my South African classmates made me aware of what was happening in the country of their birth. It was there that I began to grasp what oppression is all about from students who experienced it.”
McKell organized annual student conferences on apartheid, chaired the 1986 Toronto Arts Against Apartheid eight-day festival and was a member of the organizing committee that hosted Mandela’s first visit to Canada in June 1990, four months after his release from prison.
He planned an event at Central Technical High School for students and teachers of Toronto schools to listen to an address by Mandela, co-ordinated the participation of 45,000 students to attend the “Mandela and the Children” event at SkyDome (now Rogers Centre) during Mandela’s second visit in 1998 and spearheaded the renaming of Park Public School in Regent Park to Nelson Mandela Park Public School during the Nobel Laureate’s final visit 13 years ago.
During the 2001 trip, Mandela became the first living non-Canadian to receive honorary citizenship and Ryerson University bestowed honorary degrees on him and his wife, Graca Machel.
On his first visit to South Africa last year, McKell visited the house in Soweto where Mandela lived before he was imprisoned, his Johannesburg residence, the prison cell on Robben Island in which he was held for 18 of 27 years and the Groot Drakenstein correctional facility, where he spent the final months of his lengthy prison term.
Next March, McKell plans to visit Mandela’s birthplace and final resting place in the Eastern Cape where he wrote his memoir, Long Walk to Freedom.