I’m going to make a guilty confession here: During much of his lifetime, Nelson Mandela mostly existed at the periphery of my political awareness. When he was in the headlines, I, read about him and admired his courage and power to inspire. In high school, I wrote a term paper about apartheid–I still have it somewhere–and I remember that it was one of my best research papers, because it made me aware of what was going on in South Africa at the time [the mid-1960's, when our own Civil Rights movement was something I actually was aware of.] But I’m not sure my high-school term paper even mentioned Mandela [what an oversight!], and Mandela’s struggle and journey was not at the center of my consciousness the way it was for many other people.
I’m not proud of that fact, but that’s the way it is. Later, when my awareness expanded to include issues farther afield from my own back yard, I learned a lot more about Mandela, and the amazing transformation he helped bring about in South Africa, eventually shunning violence in favor of reconciliation. Unfortunately, the Reagan Administration officially listed him as a terrorist–a status not rescinded until the administration of George W. Bush in 2008. (That’s one of the few things Bush got right.)
It could be a long time before another Nelson Mandela comes along. And I’m not sure–in our current situation, where negativity and tear-down politics are the norm–if we’d even recognize, or give a Mandela the chance to emerge, if one showed up.
Here’s a gallery of editorial cartoon tributes to Nelson Mandela:
Gloria Shur Bilchik is a freelance writer and community volunteer in St. Louis, Missouri. She is the editor of Occasional Planet. She views the preservation of progressive values as vital to making the US a humane, livable place for her children and grandchildren.