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Nelson Mandela

December 6, 2013

Today, we have lost one of the Gods. Today, Nelson Mandela sits under a tree with Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. and sips his coke (apparently his favourite drink), and perhaps, if Heaven is what we would like to imagine it to be, Rosa Parks, and Malcolm X, and many others will drift by to say hello and welcome him to the Kingdom.

It is a sad, and happy day, for everyone who was ever involved in the anti-aparthied movement. From my treasure box at the back of my closet I pull out a tee-shirt from my university days, now so thin the light shines through it, and I look at the picture of Africa outlined in the colours of the ANC, the continent behind bars, with a pair of hands gripping at the bars. It was the first political movement I was ever involved in.

Brian Mulroney, our then Prime Minister, was one of the few leaders in the world who would even tepidly come out against apartheid. But his stance was luke-warm at best. Still it was better that Reagan and Thatcher, who had no problems with apartheid and 3m whites ruling over a nation of 27m blacks.

We are all much more cynical now, knowing as we do that racism is still alive and well (and growing) in the world. We are cynical and shout out that Mandela was no saint, that he was a philanderer, and an adulterer. As if, by dragging him down, we will feel better about our own ignorances and prejudices.

But Mandela himself said he was no saint. Nor did he want to be seen as a saint. For sainthood separated us from our own responsibilities. Sainthood conferred on another allows us to transfer our own responsibilities. Like dropping a can of beans in the food bank box allows us to feel like we have dealt with the hunger issue.

Today, we lost one of the Gods. But as Archbishop Desmond Tutu noted this morning, that God resides in all of us, and each of us can rise to that same challenge against ignorance and intolerance. If only we chose to do it.


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