long walk to freedom

I wasn't shocked to hear that Nelson Mandela died today. After all, he was 95 and had been fighting pneumonia for months now. But I am still sad that the world lost such a great man.

My husband spent much of his childhood and adolescent years in South Africa in the late 1980s and early-mid 1990s, just when apartheid was ending. He attended the first racially integrated high school in South Africa (Umtata High School). At least once, if not twice, his family's home was fire-bombed when times were particularly tense, politically. No one in his family was hurt, fortunately, but it was still frightening. They celebrated when Mandela was elected the first black president of South Africa in 1994.

In early 2000, just before Stuart's parents retired from their work in Umtata, he and I took a two-week trip to visit them. I saw wild animals in a game park, swam in the Indian Ocean at the Wild Coast, drove past miles upon miles of shanty towns with shacks pieced together from tin and cardboard outside Cape Town, went to a church service conducted in Xhosa (with my FIL translating) in a mud hut, drove through some of the most beautiful countryside I've ever seen (South Africa's landscape inspired J.R.R. Tolkien, in fact) dotted with villages and far too many brightly colored funeral tents. We also toured Robben Island, where Mandela spent 27 years in prison. It was all an eye-opening, beautiful, humbling experience.

After that trip I read his autobiography Long Walk To Freedom. I don't claim to have any special knowledge about the history of South Africa or insight into the lives of people there. But I happen to live with someone who spent his formative years there, and his parents carry a lot of knowledge about that place.

I know this: the world lost a great man today. Rest in peace, Madiba.

File:Nelson Mandela-2008 (edit).jpg


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