NORMAN — South African society during the time of Nelson Mandela was a carefully calibrated classification of color. The top echelon was the European white, Anglo or Afrikaans, then the non-Europeans, the coloreds, then the blacks. This prism rigidly determined the future of all. It was as immutable as the laws of physics.
It was with this backdrop that Mandela — a lawyer, a family man and a professional — began a 60-year fight for freedom and equality. It was not pretty; both sides committed atrocities that went unreported, except for the maimed survivors who subsequently shared their misery. There was no internet or social media. South Africa was dark.
The rest of the worldm including the U.S.m took sides depending on their political desires and their economic ties during the scourge of apartheid.
The overarching theme of Mandela’s life was a driven desire irrespective of personal pain to bring freedom to a land of millions who were politically discarded to the rubbish heap of South Africa by the white power structure. He was simultaneously considered a terrorist, a communist, a freedom fighter and a liberator, depending on your perspective. He was imprisoned for life.
His personal evolution during his 28 years in prison did not metastasize his hatred for white South Africa but allowed him to forge an internal sentiment that provided a basis for bringing one of the most powerful nations on the continent to a point of democracy wherein all its people could co-habit.
His most enduring action was not just subsequently winning the presidency of South Africa but forging a Reconciliation Conference to bring the past into perspective and to fix his country on a path of growth and survival. He personally knew from his days as a fighter, literally and figuratively, that hundreds of thousands of Africans and whites would die in a decades-long blood bath of civil war with no foreseeable change in the life of the average man.
It is believed that his democratic approach, along with the outgoing white president de Klerk, made both sides survive. They both received the Nobel Prize for peace.
Unlike most black African leaders of his time, he remained in office only one term, he put his country first — not his Swiss bank account — and maintained a passion for country first and was not enamored by the trappings of wealth fame and stardom. His humor was legendary; he was down to earth and actively maintained a desire to make his home a new and vibrant country to lead the continent.
Mandela was loyal to his principles and made great political strides in making his former pariah country a model for Africa today. Politicians of all stripes, can learn a lot from a man named Mandela.
Dr. Henry Crichlow, a former OU Distinguished Professor, lives in Norman and has traveled extensively worldwide and writes on technical, cultural and historical issues.
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