06 December 2013

Rest in (People) Power, Nelson Mandela

(Photo by Anoosh Jorjorian)
Madiba went home today.

The lesson of Mandela and the Anti-Apartheid movement is not about endings. I remember how elated and triumphant I felt in 1994, when South Africans of all colors went to the polls. But the path to liberation does not end with democracy. Democracy is but one step. We are still treading the path. 

That path started before Nelson Mandela, and it continues after him. No one person is a movement. Great shifts in history come from masses of people working together: drops of water that make a flood. 

After a liberator dies, power rewrites the story. So it’s up to the people to remember the truth. Human lives are never simple, nothing is just black-and-white. (Not even South Africa—the Anti-Apartheid movement included every constituency of the Rainbow Nation, including people of Southeast Asian and South Asian origins.) The South African constitution enshrined GLBT rights because people in the movement did not hide for the sake of the struggle, they instead made connections between racism and homophobia visible and visceral. The Anti-Apartheid movement aimed for nothing less than liberation for all, but only because people within the movement demanded it. 

Power sees liberation movements as the enemy. Power wants nothing more than Stasis, to continue itself into perpetuity. People want Change, because we are alive, because we grow and die, because we have children, because Life begins and ends and keeps going on, but never the same. 

Mandela gave us a gift. He gave us tools. We don’t need to mourn what we’ve lost. Let’s instead revel in the gifts we have received, in the knowledge we have gained. Power wants us to forget. We will not forget. For Madiba’s sake, and for all those ordinary, mundane freedom fighters whose names are forgotten to history, but not to their friends and families, we must remember. We have to take up the tools, well-worn. We repair and use them again. And we pass them on. 


Since the day of Mandela’s passing, I have heard from friends who are teachers that many of their students—elementary to high school—do not know who Mandela was nor what he accomplished. 

Zoë Wicomb wrote in The New Yorker, “Every schoolchild knows of his contribution to democracy in South Africa, of the sacrifices he made, of his status as an icon of reconciliation.” 

Apparently not. And they won’t unless we tell them.  

Readings on Mandela the man, not Mandela the myth:

"The Meaning of Mandela," The Nation 
"Don't Sanitize Mandela,"  The Daily Beast
"Three Myths About Mandela Worth Busting," Africa Is A Country
"That Time Reagan Vetoed the Anti-Apartheid Act," Colorlines.

Multicultural Kid Blogs has a tribute page to Mandela, including a link to an elementary school lesson plan about Mandela.

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