Nelson Mandela died today.
This is a different kind of blog for me. First because the photos were not taken by me and secondly because I want to reflect on the passing of a giant and how humbled I was that our paths crossed however insignificant for him and how hugely significant for me.
We officially met twice…technically three times but I’m not sure that going through airport security in Cape Town with him, when his guards had to remove their guns and he charmingly joked and apologized for the delay with us, counts!
For all my youth I was passionately involved with the anti-apartheid movement within the trade union I belonged to and fought for sanctions against the state of South Africa because the black workers there asked us. From the time when our governments still called Nelson Mandela and his ANC terrorists until they embraced him as a saint we kept faith with his indomitable spirit.
When that glorious day came in February of 1990 when after 27 years he walked free from prison, the first thing Mandela did was embark on an international trip to thank supporters around the world. Yes he met leaders but he also met activists who had supported the struggle through those dark years and miracle of miracles I had the privilege to be one. It was a quick photo op in Toronto with Madiba and Winnie but there was no one in the world I would rather have shaken hands with!
In 1994 while he was running for President in the first democratic elections in South Africa I met with him again at the ANC headquarters in the Shell building in Johannesburg when I visited along with the then President of the Canadian Labour Congress, Bob White.
We sat with him for over an hour discussing the challenges ahead and as you’ll hear from anyone who met this great man he was humble, attentive, self deprecatingly funny, wise and mesmerizing. There are some people who walk this earth who are different from us…who when you’re in their presence you just know they’re made of different stuff – ‘the royal jelly’ my husband respectfully calls it.
Whatever it is, Madiba had it.
President Obama said that Mandela said “I am not a saint unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying”. Who else but a saint would say that?
How wonderful – lucky you to have met him more than once! And congratulations on all your work against apartheid. “The royal jelly” – I like that! I also love that last quote of Mr. Mandela’s – you are right, it makes him great that he always acknowledged he was less than perfect….
Thank you – I really enjoyed your memories as well.
I loved reading through your blog! Got me to thinking that I should do something along the same lines sometime. It is all about an idea and then the execution of that idea. It is interesting how we all live our lives, and who we meet on our lifes journey. I never met Mandela, however, I followed his story over the years. He certainly was an inspiration to some many.
Thank you for sharing.
Thanks for your thoughts Kathy.
Carol, thanks for sharing your experiences of him. Through the efforts of so many activists like you he was freed and has become one of the greatest leaders of our times. The memories of his extraordinary life, especially his leadership and his humanity, will continue to be a source of inspiration for all.
Thank you Donna.
Beautifully said Carol. Thanks for sharing this.
Irene Lowe Sent from my iPad
Thanks Irene and I know how close South Africa is to your heart too.
What a beautiful and thoughtful blog. You shaking hands with this giant of a man and leader or “sinner who keeps trying” brought tears to my eyes. I was most moved last night with the sign held by a young South African that said “now it’s our turn”
It brought tears to my eyes too! A young black man who was a TV panelist last night said his daughter thought of Presidents as black because of Obama and great men as black because of Mandela…it really is our turn now.
An incredible man and a huge loss, you are very blessed to have had the opportunity to have met him.
Thank you Laura. I feel extremely blessed and so was the world to have known him.
What precious memories you have to hold. It is a sad day but ,my goodness, what a legacy of goodness and compassion and leadership he has given us all. And for that we must be very glad.
You’re so right and it is interesting how so many people in South Africa took to the streets to sing and dance in his memory. His is a life to to celebrated not mourned.