Nelson Mandela is the father of modern South Africa, but he belongs to all humanity now, and all of humanity seems ready to embrace him at last.
The New York Times accurately observed that Mr. Mandela, who died today at the great age of 95, had become “an international emblem of dignity and forbearance.”
But we need to remember that Mr. Mandela is a towering figure in humanity’s memory not simply because of what he achieved, but because he achieved it despite the bitter opposition of people who hated who he was and what he stood for.
That means we must also remember Mr. Mandela and his great cause, the reason for his long imprisonment, were not always universally admired, even here in Canada. And it will be worth keeping in mind, when the time for mourning his loss and celebrating his calling has passed, just who it was in our land who supported the aspirations of the South African people and who did not.
Hard as it may seem to believe on this day, there was a time when representatives of South Africa’s racist apartheid government toured this land, treated with kid gloves by officialdom and media. Later, in 2001, when Mr. Mandela was made Canada’s second honorary citizen, a voice was raised against what was as much an honour for us Canadians as it was for Mr. Mandela. The owner of that voice still sits in the House of Commons.
Mr. Mandela’s sacrifice and his success will continue to inspire people around the world, and here in Canada too, as they struggle for justice and dignity.
It is a great thing that Mr. Mandela lived to an old age and was able to see the fruits of his achievement.
Still, I tonight turned irresistibly to Walt Whitman’s laments for Abraham Lincoln, struck down at the moment of his achievement, to describe my mood:
No more for him life’s stormy conflicts,
Nor victory, nor defeat – no more time’s dark events,
Charging like ceaseless clouds across the sky.
But sing poet in our name,
Sing of the love we bore him – because you – dweller in camps,
know it truly.
This post also appears on Rabble.ca.