Guest column: The legacy of Nelson Mandela

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By LaVerne C. Franklin

Golden Gate Estates

Millions of people around the world celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela, the icon and anti-apartheid leader. This great eloquent orator conveyed words of humility, strength, unshakeable courage, forgiveness and hope for a true democratic South Africa.

He possessed the uncanny, rare ability to love, respect and forgive those who trespassed against him and his fellow compatriots.

He devised a plan for a society that will treat all of its citizens as equals. Mandela’s death was expected but it affected me deeply, and made me reflect on how and why I became engaged as a community activist.

I was born and raised in a northeastern urban city, Philadelphia, which made me naïve to the muted acts of covert civil rights infractions and systemic political discriminatory laws that denied minorities their basic human and civil rights.

American freedom activists and Mandela set the road map for a free, democratic society and emphasized that one person can make a difference — but leadership also required personal sacrifices, the art of compromise, knowledge and courage.

I accepted the challenge.

Brilliant, eloquent professors presented the United States’ Jim Crow laws vs. apartheid in South Africa. It was determined the two societies were indistinguishable. Consequently, “Free Mandela’’ became our freedom cry! Numerous campaigns were instituted: letters to governmental officials, lobbying, petitions, rallies and marches.

In February 1990, Mandela was released from prison. We celebrated and cried tears of joy and shouted, “Free at last, free at last. Thank God almighty, he is free at last!’’

I decided to visit South Africa for 16 days in 2005 to witness the social changes where Mandela transcended race. Elation is what my late husband, Paul, and I experienced as we boarded the ferry that took us to then-Robben Island Museum, where Mandela was held prisoner for 27 years.

We boarded a ferry that departed from the Mandela Gateway. On board, we met and conversed with a South African professor who grew up under apartheid. He was very proud of his country and freely shared the struggles and victories. He told us how the anti-apartheid leader bridged the black and white divide; avoided a bloodbath war between blacks and whites; united the country; and dismantled apartheid.

We walked through the huge stone arch and read the words, “Robbeniland, Welcome, Welkom, We Serve with Pride, Ons Dien Met Trot.” Our excellent tour guide was incarcerated with Mandela and shared many of their survival strategies. The tour included views of the salt mines and Censors Office, where the mail was examined.

The courtyard was very memorable because this is where secret codes were developed that enabled them to receive and pass information in and out of prison that kept the struggle alive.

Walking down the dimly lit hallway and standing in his cell was a major highlight of our tour. We closed the cell door and a cold chill engulfed us as we felt his presence. Our eyes were swollen with tears that ran down our faces and we were speechless.

Mandela endured ghastly treatment but walked out of prison with his dignity — mentally alert, physically strong and still committed to community service, which would insure equality for all South Africans. He became South Africa’s first black President.

Thank you, Madiba. You inspired me and taught the world that one person can make a difference, but first we must change ourselves. Do not let adversity control our minds; use our brains to overcome obstacles; be open to change; understand the mission; be humble; always seek reconciliation; give service to all the people; and always remember, “We all belong to the Human Race. We are a family.”

This is his legacy.

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