Thursday, 5 December 2013

(Something Inside) So Strong

For some time now I've been struggling for inspiration with this blog. Idle chit-chat on day-to-day banalities, the light and dark of Christmas, the weather beyond the hedgerow and so on, were all fair game. But none floated my boat. And so I hibernated. But today was different. What finally woke me from my slumber and gave me reason for writing was the passing of Nelson Mandela.

He was already an icon, bigger than the flesh and blood that comes as standard with being human. The obituaries and tributes over the coming weeks will provide further meat to a cultural lexicon that has been generations in the making, offering better insight into his glorious life than I would ever be able to. So all I can really share is a brief snippet of what he meant in the context of my world.

I look back to that day in February 1990 when Mr. Mandela walked out of jail a free man and try to remember how things used to be; things that a 20-something year old can intellectually "get" but weren't there to experience. He was already one of my heroes by that point, not that I remember when that started really. Beyond going to a free anti-Apartheid concert on Clapham Common, grooving to the 'Free Nelson Mandela' track and giving up South African oranges for a small time, I would hardly call myself a "bra-burning" (or whatever the male equivalent is) activist. I was just a kid that observed. Observed and connected. I kind of got it. Because in the post-Bob Marley search for role models for a young black kid, like myself, there really weren't that many in the conventional sense. Beyond those that played with a ball, smacked someone around a ring, or knew how to belt out a tune, there was a bit of a void. There was nothing wrong with identifying with some of these but I wanted more. A philosophy. Mr. Mandela represented something different. To me, he was about more than simply what he did. He was about what he stood for. He stood for me. It's crazy to think how far the world has moved on in the last 25 years. More integration, less separation. More teaching the world to sing in perfect (or at least better) harmony. No Mandela = no Obama.

The day after his release I still remember reading the cover page of the UK's 'Daily Mirror' newspaper in my university common room. It coincided with the day the invincible and undefeated Mike Tyson, another hero of mine, had incredibly been knocked out by Buster Douglas in Tokyo. So 'Iron Mike' on his knees and Nelson Mandela with a fist in the air shared a split screen page. 'Down and Out' was the caption. Very powerful, and even more so given the fact that one has been in terminal decline since that day, while the other has changed the course of history.

For me, he represents the very best about being human. A man that knew his limitations, a man that had weaknesses and issues like the rest of us, but also a man that preached peace, forgiveness, reconciliation and understanding. Thank you, Madiba, for being around in my time.


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