When Jim & I visited South Africa, the universal view that was shared by all of the black and white South Africans that we spoke to was that Nelson Mandela is a great man. Everyone spoke of him with great fondness and deep respect.
I was too young at the time of Apartheid in South Africa to know or understand what was going on. I visited South Africa with only very limited knowledge about Apartheid, which made our visit to the simple but powerfully evocative Apartheid Museum in Cape Town a very eye-opening and moving experience.
We could not visit Cape Town without taking the boat over to Robben Island, which is where Nelson Mandela spent 27 years as a political prisoner. The only way to see the island is by guided tour, and the tour was extremely informative.
This is Mandela’s prison cell.
And this is the limestone quarry where Mandela and the other prisoners were forced into hard labour, breaking rocks.
After being robbed of his freedom for so long, it would have been understandable if Mandela’s incarceration had bred in him anger and contempt towards his oppressors. However, on being released Mandela’s message was one of forgiveness and reconciliation, which helped South Africa leave behind it’s divisive past and become the “rainbow nation”.
Before I went to South Africa, my boss at the time told me that she had visited the previous year. She was quite political person, and during Apartheid, she had signed petitions, participated in anti-apartheid and free Mandela rallies, and boycotted South African exports. She told me that she had believed that she would never be able to visit South Africa in her lifetime, and the fact that she had been able to do so was an incredibly humbling and moving experience for her.
There are countries and regions in the world that I look at now and find it hard to believe that I will ever be able to visit. However, Nelson Mandela can be a beacon of hope that nothing is impossible, and no matter how desperate and shocking the situation may seem, there is always a way forward.