I am watching young people both black and white on television as they gather in front of the home of Nelson Mandela to celebrate the life of a man who was a global icon and a national hero.
The images are reveting and beautiful. Young people who weren't around when the brutal regime that ruled their country kept black people as second class citizens, now they are celebrating the life of a man who led their country through a peaceful transition towards democracy and change.
Mandela was the "moral center" of South Africa, and now that he is gone we can only hope that the country will hold it together. Given the youth of the nation's population, I am guessing that the country of South Africa will be fine, and it will continue on its current path. But it won't be easy. There is still a lot of apartheid hangover lingering there.
A friend of mine moved there a few years back to start a business, and he was amazed at the lack of incentive to work by the black South Africans who came up through Apartheid. "You had to drill it into them that they had a stake in the business. They were so used to working without any hope of advancement that it became ingrained in their way of thinking and it reflected in their work. It was very frustrating."
The similarities with our own country and South Africa are undeniable. We had our own state sanctioned ways of keeping us unequal as well, and it took a movement to bring about change. Many black Americans still do not believe that they have a real stake in this country or that they have an equal chance of succeeding.
We Americans, of course, have no icons to act as our "moral center'; we don't believe that we need one. We have the Bill Of Rights, those powerful first ten amendments of our Constitution is all that we need. This, of course, is what we tell ourselves.
Unlike the case with South Africa, we explain, our state sanctioned oppression was a very long time ago. We don't want to learn any lessons from Mandela, there is no need for any truth and reconciliation commissions, because we have come so far, and the moral stain on our country was so long ago.
But as we celebrate the life and times of Nelson Mandela, let's not forget the fact that he went into prison as a terrorist, and the ANC was demonized by the right in this country and across the world. (I see you Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.)
The right has never apologized for their support of the apartheid regime in South Africa, and I suppose that makes sense. Why should the white minority with all that power and wealth cede it to a poor black majority with left leaning political views? The republican party of today greatly resembles the National Party of South Africa from 1948. Same goals.
Still, I keep going back to those images in front of Mandela's home. The people there are all so young and so happy. They seem full of optimism and hope for their country's future. This gives me hope. Because their behavior and the makeup of the people there is antithetical to that of the modern day conservative in this country.
“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”
Rest in peace President Mandela, you were a good man.
But sadly, here in America, enemies will never become partners.