What is Nelson Mandela’s legacy?

Answer by Rory Young:

Peace, hope and dignity.

Stanley M made it clear to me that he hated me and all white Africans. We were sitting in a tent and had just heard about Nelson Mandela’s release. Stanley was a former Zimbabwean ZANLA guerilla fighter. He told me that payback time was now coming to white South Africans and they would get what they deserved.

I thought back to the year I had spent at boarding school in Kimberley in South Africa in 1985 as a 12-13 year old. I remembered a pleasant evening walk from a church service back to school. My friend and I were strolling along a small street lined with pretty colonial bungalows, all with lovely little gardens. It was sunset and we were enjoying the walk and laughing at some silly stories we were telling each other. We were interrupted by a voice from one of the verandahs.

Kaffir“, it said.
[Edit: Kaiffir is the most derogatory word for a black person]

I turned and saw a family sitting in silence with cold faces staring at us. I looked to my friend. His name was Hilton and he was black. He was small and harmless and a good boy. He now had a look of fear on his face; a look also of sadness, disappointment and frustration. He searched my face, waiting for my own reaction. I smiled pathetically and tried to make light of it. I failed.

“Hey kaffir boetie, voetsek!” This was from the verandah of the next house along. Again, cold stares. We ignored it and continued.
[Edit: “boetie” literally means little brother, but is meant sarcastically and “voetsek” means roughly “piss off”.]

As we approached the next house, I heard in English, “Get that little kaffir out of here soutpiel!” We walked half a kilometre along the row of houses and, every step of the way, both he and I were insulted; he for being black and me for simply walking with him.
[Edit: “soutpiel” is a derogatory name used by Afrikaners for Anglo-Africans. It literally means “salt prick”, implying that Anglo-Africans have one foot in Europe and one in Africa and that their penis hangs in the ocean becaue they are not truly from Africa]

Our school was a private one and thus could admit black kids, unlike the government schools which were all strictly segregated. We had been walking through a white area where any black would have required a special pass to enter. It was a huge shock and a lesson to me. I was struck not only by the laws, but by the real hatred of this whole street towards my friend simply because he was black.

I came back to the present. I was worried. Stanley was right, white South Africans would be wiped out, murdered on the streets. I had absolutely no doubts about it.

I had of course heard of Nelson Mandela. I had heard that he had been a “terrorist”, as some called him, or a “freedom fighter” as others called him. I expected a man like Samora Machel or Robert Mugabe. I certainly didn’t expect the Nelson Mandela we would all learn to respect and love. African leaders had always been a disappointment to me. They had been hugely consistent in their ability to mismanage, steal from their people and of course butcher their enemies.

I couldn’t imagine the Afrikaners letting themselves be governed by a black man and an ANC government. On the news I saw Eugene Terblanche rallying the AWB to fight when the inevitable black revenge came. It would of course spill over into Zimbabwe, Namibia and other African countries and it would descend into bloody civil war. Those of us in the middle would be forced into one group or another, as always happens. My own family had been divided during the war in Rhodesia. Would I end up fighting my own?

It never happened. Nelson Mandela not only became the great example of a leader that Africa needed, he became a unique and wonderful example to the whole world. He also became a personal example to me. If he could go against the flow and stand alone in order to do the right thing, then so could we all. Not just South Africans, but Africans of all nationalities, colours and creeds. Nelson Mandela became a greater leader than any white leader. He was a man who could be respected, admired and loved more than any other politician, and he was black! What a gift to mankind.

Nelson Mandela flew so high above the ideals and actions of any other man of his generation that he changed my little world and the greater world I live in forever, giving me and all Africans, both black and white an ideal to live by and a future to believe in.

Nelson Mandela’s legacy is peace in South Africa for the last twenty years, hope for the future and dignity for himself, his people, his country and his continent.

Without his amazing personal leadership and ability to inspire people to forgive and reconcile there would have been a very different outcome and no matter who leads his country in the future, they will always have to live in his moral shadow. He has shown us the way.

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela is our conscience.

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