Early in my life I was strongly opposed to the notion of apartheid or any other form of racial discrimination. As a child I watched the race riots every night on the local Detroit news casts, and in high school I wrote a book report on the novel, “Black Like Me”, in an effort to understand bigotry.
Late in my teens I met a young man from South Africa, and came to understand the white man’s viewpoint about their status in the country. He invited me to travel to South Africa with him to visit his parents and to enjoy the idyllic beauty of their recreational capital of Cape Town.
South Africa sounded like the most beautiful country, but I flatly turned down the offer for a free holiday. The young man couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to go; I couldn’t explain enough my reasons for declining. I knew only too well about apartheid because of Mr. Mandela’s struggle for equality and subsequent incarceration. I couldn’t go to a place where one race enforced its superiority over another.
Even when the young man explained how wonderful it was to have someone do everything for me, I couldn’t explain my opposition strongly enough. When I asked if the servants were paid, he said they were paid the equivalent of 50 cents per day, that they appreciated having such work and called him “Master”. This was in the 1970’s! He still couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t want to go to his country, where the native people had to walk through lanes behind the main streets, so as not to offend the dominating white race.
About a year later, when his parents came to visit, I learned that his father, a former Olympic athlete, had worked to help the black trade unions prior to the Soweto riots. I enjoyed a walk through Vancouver’s Stanley Park with his mother, a very nice lady who worked in downtown Johannesburg. They also invited me to visit them in their home and I kindly explained why I couldn’t accept their invitation. While their son seemed conditioned to and oblivious to the injustice, his parents felt embarrassed about their helplessness of having to live within the laws of their government.
When Nelson Mandela was released from prison and became president of his country, I was so elated that his personal struggle had brought an almost immediate end to apartheid.
That’s how Nelson Mandela inspired me. I hope we’ve all been inspired by this brave man’s example of enacting positive change by standing by our principles, no matter what.
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