I returned to South Africa in April of 1990. The country I had left in 1981 had been full of apprehension and sure that a sad end would come. The country that I returned to was guardedly full of hope. Nelson Mandela had just been released after serving 27 years in prison. Most people released after such a long confinement would have been bitter and vengeful. They would have dedicated their whole life to “getting even” with those who put them in prison. In the worst case, South Africa could have deteriorated into a violent and bloody civil war, as is the case in Syria now. Under this scenario the best case would have been that Mandela came to power with big promises and proceeded to act just like Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe.
The Nelson Mandela of 1990 and today was and is a statesman and a man full of wisdom and a great love and vision not just for South Africa but for the world. He was fortunate to be negotiating with F.W. de Klerk, then state president of South Africa who knew that change had to come. The lengthy negotiations were often testy and tense. In the end a road map was established to take South Africa to full democracy. I was very blessed to be able to vote in South Africa’s first all-race election in 1994. I was part of the great celebration on the night that the election finished and Mandela was elected. One African lady came on television and said the profound words: “Finally they will stop treating us like children.” I got to watch Nelson Mandela be sworn in as president in Cape Town. I have seen South Africa grow and prosper over the last 19 years.
I never got to meet President Mandela. I did get to meet his “right hand woman” Barbara Joyce Masekela who has been so kind to me. I cried at the end of the Clint Eastwood film Invictus.
Madiba when you were sick and all hope seemed gone, I prayed for you. What a glorious day it is that you have lived to be 95 years of age.! Stevie Wonder should serenade you with that beautiful song: “Happy Birthday To You Baby!”