Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Thoughts on Mandela

I’ve had a really hard time coming to terms with what I feel about the passing of Madiba. I’m not even sure I feel entitled to call him Madiba, as I feel that I haven’t been as committed to the fight for equity, justice and human rights as I should be. I feel farther removed than an African or a person of any colour, race, sexual orientation or tribe that has been systematically oppressed for many generations, or even one generation. One generation is enough. And I am not a South African, so the name Madiba, is not something that has historical or cultural resonance for me. In English, our names for great heroes and sages are antiquated and have been replaced by words like doctor, PhD candidate, nobel laureate, president and prime minister. None of those come close to encompassing a proper title for Nelson Mandela. Madiba, although I don’t really understand the cultural significance, seems to symbolize a deep level of respect and appreciation.—a fondness and affection and an almost parental connection. I’m not sure that this is a true understanding of the word, or just what it has come to envelop through my own distant understanding and associations of the word used by others. In my own mind, I understand it to be a word with a similar connotation as Mahatma. Great Soul. And I think that way of thinking about Nelson Mandela is the most appropriate and accurate way to describe my sentiments.
Nelson Mandela has been one of my heroes, probably since the end of my university years. I wasn’t very aware of what was going on in the world until then and when I started learning more about some of the roots of inequality in the world through a Canadian culture/history class and an African History class that I took, I started becoming more and more aware of the significance of leaders like Mandela.
I read Mandela’s biography when I was an English teacher in Japan. Back when I taught in 25 different elementary schools. As hectic as it seems, I had a lot of time between classes and sometimes on weekdays, too. Since I was an impermanent staff member, and a 'Gaijin' who may speak nothing but English, most of the teachers didn't know what to do with me and it was hard to establish relationships while they ran in and out of the staff room with arms full of lesson materials. Occasionally a brave teacher would sit down beside me while I poked at my bento lunch and start a typical conversation: "Sugoi! You like Japanese food!?" or "Sugoi, You use chopstick!"

I primarily spent my time alone in the staff rooms studying Japanese and reading. Those two years in Japan helped me to learn a lot. I read personal accounts of victims of the Khmer Rouge, and the Vietnam war, I read about atrocities committed in Congo and Japan’s assault on Nanking during WWII, I read Aung San Suu Kyii’s biography and I read A Long Walk to Freedom. I also passed the 2 Level of the JLPT.

And that was only the beginning of my search for knowledge about the world. It’s still continuing now much to the dismay of many of my career-focused mentors, parents, and probably rationally minded friends. I haven’t yet been satisfied by the status quo and have always admired people like Mandela throughout history who had the determination, courage and stubbornness to stand up for the greater good, equality, equity, justice, freedom, in the face of extreme and intense opposition.
In Nigeria, people are talking about how great Mandela was. They are also talking about how much a British businessman wants to pay for the site where Mandela is now buried. They talk about how much money he will make. They talk about how Nigerian leaders would never be celebrated like Mandela. How the name Mandela would open doors for any of his relatives. How names like Obasanjo could get you stoned in the street. They use Mandela’s name to beg taxi drivers for honesty and fairness in their fares and will use it again to beg forgiveness from the same taxi drivers when they pay them less than they asked for. They claim they would prefer to become the Mandela of women since they can’t make it to be as great as the real Mandela. They nickname the girl that they have called over to the table Winnie 1, and laugh.

For me, it is overwhelming to look at the pictures that come up when you google “World Mourns Nelson Mandela”. It brings me to tears to see the world united about a man who, I think, would have been happy to see a world unified for what he stood for. Of course, it is not. Inside and outside of south Africa, the struggles that he fought to overcome still continue in different places and for different reasons.
In Nigera people say that the world will never see another person like Mandela. He’s the only one that will ever be as good as he was, as great as he was.
I don’t believe that. I can't.

I believe that there are individuals today and that will go on into the future who will face circumstances as dire, perhaps even more harsh than Mandela’s, who by some divine providence will be spared from death and will be raised to the forefront of the collective consciousness. There is always a struggle that will touch the heart of the human population, because it is fundamentally unjust. It may take decades for a critical mass of people to understand why or how it is unjust, but that is why there will also always be someone who will refuse to be broken in the face of that injustice. That is something that I truly believe. That is something that Malala Yousafzi, who was shot for going to school, or Nabila Rehman, another Pakistani girl who’s grandmother was killed in a drone strike, a Palestinian who is resisting Israeli apartheid or a Bangladeshi child who’s parents were crushed in a garment factory, could be credited with many years into the future. It could be a First Nations person from Elsipogtog nation or any other nationaffected by extractive industries in Canada. It could be an Inuit person who fights for action against climate change. It could be an Egyptian, a Turk, a Ukrainian, a Honduran, a Cambodian, or a multinational person. It could be Julian Assange or Bradley Manning or Edward Snowden. It could be anyone of us who are staring in the face of a future we don’t want. A future that is leading up to a denial of everything we have grown up to believe in. Especially when we hold Mandela as one of our international icons. There are huge and powerful forces now that loom over the future of humanity, that want it bought and sold, no matter how much radiation or toxic sludge it will be covered in. There are many people around the world that are standing up against these powers, that are protesting despite state secrets bills being arbitrarily passed, despite muzzles being put on the gatekeepers of their industries. They are standing up despite pepper spray and unprecedented police violence. They are standing up even though everyday that a new bill or agreement is passed into law, there is less hope for a better future. A critical mass is realizing this and a critical mass is standing up.
I fear that it might be too late, but I hope it is not. Now that Madiba has left us, we will see our next great soul rise up from the masses and stand as a beacon of hope and strength for the masses when our battle comes to a head. Although this time, with so much interconnection and connectedness, I feel that we can all be the great soul, collectively. In fact, we need to be, in order to continue at all.
I'm thankful to Madiba for such a clear and great example of how to be in the world. I am happy that I have been able to share the planet with such a great man for 28 years. I would like to talk to other people from varying age groups and social classes about their ideas regarding Mandela. I'd like to know the feelings that people had when he was in court with the Apartheid government, when he was called an international terrorist, when he was in jail for 27 years, when he was released and accepted the nobel prize with the Apartheid leader at the time, when he was president. I know that he had and has opposition. The only reason that he is so widely celebrated today is because he endured a particular struggle that transformed to serve him. He was persecuted by his predecessors for challenging the status quo, as many of us are today. If he hadn't lived as long, say, died when he was in his 50s, there wouldn't have been near as much of an outpouring of grief. That is something to remember.

But, I guess the take away message is that it's never a waste of time to fight for a better future. . .


Sachico said...

Great post. Keep on writing.

Clueless Wonder said...

Thanks Sachico :) I appreciate your comments and your encouragement. I hope things are wonderful wherever you are <3

Anonymous said...

Madiba is his Xhosa clan name.