Born in 1918, Mandela grew up in a South Africa ridden with hatred and oppression of Black Africans. He became an activist against South Africa’s apartheid and President of the African National Congress Youth League. At the age of 47, Mandela was sentenced to life in prison on four counts of sabbotage. He served 27 years of his sentence- 5 years in hard labor and the remaining years in a cell less than 10 feet by 8 feet. For many of us, this would seem like a coffin. Yet for Mandela, his dedication to freedom thrived. He turned anger into peace. He believed that to be free was to make peace with your enemy.
“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”- Nelson Mandela
In 1984, Mandela eventually became the first Black President of the Republic of South Africa. “In my country, we go to prison first, and then become president” (Nelson Mandela). This quote shows his humor and humility. His warmth, wisdom and grace are an inspiration for us all.
We all have enemies. Can we partner with them to create peace? In 1993, Mandela and the National Party Leader F.W. deKlerk shared the Nobel Peace Prize for their work in dismantling apartheid and forming the new multi-racial democracy. This is an example of Mandela’s capacity to reach across to friends and enemies in service of freedom.
If we cannot create peace with our enemies, can we create peace within ourselves? While Mandela served his 27 years in prison, he did not fill his body with resentment. Instead he turned to loved ones for support, including his wife of 33 years, Winnie Mandela. He filled himself with hope, a hope for freedom for all.
Thank you Nelson Mandela. May you continue to experience peace. May we all be inspired by your dedication to freedom. May we all experience freedom within ourselves and in our world.