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What’s in a February Eleven

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By EMN Updated: Feb 10, 2020 11:39 pm
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Today is February 11, 2020. To many of us, this day might seem like another day of work. For some, it may be time to go back to school or another day of board exams. For those interested in politics, today is the election results of the Delhi 2020 Assembly elections. And to a select few, I would like to remind them that they only got three days left before Valentine’s. But in history, today is a significant day, especially to the people of South Africa.

Thirty years ago, to this day, on February 11, 1990, was a moment of historical significance. After enduring 27 long years in prison, anti-apartheid activist and freedom fighter Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was released at the Victor Verster prison. Walking hand in hand with his wife, Winnie Mandela, he walked out of the prison in front of a massive crowd. The event was broadcasted live across the world. In his release speech at Cape Town’s City Hall, he announced his commitment towards peace and reconciliation with the white community but also stated that the freedom struggle would continue, and the ANC (African National Congress) would fight against apartheid.

After four years of negotiation and reconciliation, South Africa held its first democratic general election where blacks were allowed to vote alongside whites. As expected, the ANC led by Nelson Mandela won the elections with an overwhelming majority and became the first black president of South Africa. Nelson Mandela received international recognition for his works of reconciliation between the black and white communities of South Africa and becoming South Africa’s first black president. But he is best known for his long struggle towards South Africa’s freedom and his message of peace and forgiveness.

Personally, the first time I heard of Nelson Mandela was in school history book. I remembered seeing the broadcasts of his death in 2013, but I didn’t think much of it. Then in grade 9 in English class, I began studying a chapter called Invictus. Invictus was a poem written by William Ernest Henry. This lesson introduced me to Invictus, the poem, and how Nelson Mandela used that poem to persevere in prison. It gave him hope and the will to stand when all he wanted to do was lie down. The lesson also showed me how Nelson Mandela used that poem to inspire Francois Pienaar, captain of South Africa’s rugby team to win the 1995 rugby world cup.

I found the story exciting and pondered on the lesson. Then one day I was spending the day at my cousin’s house waiting for my parents to arrive. I was feeling bored and went to watch TV to pass the time until dinner. While I was browsing the channels, I suddenly saw a movie named Invictus that was about to begin. That intrigued me as I was still studying the lesson at school. When the film started, I found that the movie was the film version of the English lesson I was studying but revealed a lot more. The film showed Nelson Mandela’s struggle to unite a nation, how he used rugby to bring national reconciliation to South Africa. The film also revealed how the poem motivated Mandela, including how he motivated Pienaar with this poem inspiring him to encourage his team to be the beacon of unity for South Africa. The film was terrific, and since then, I’ve been interested in learning more about South Africa’s history and Nelson Mandela. I came across another film recently about Mandela named after his biography, ‘The Long Walk to Freedom.’ The film gave a different adaptation starting from his life as a lawyer to becoming president of South Africa.

To learn more about Nelson Mandela, I asked my mother to buy me his autobiography while I was in Malaysia, which she readily agreed. Now in Penang Malaysia, I try to find time to read about Nelson Mandela’s life journey, and every chapter of his biography. ‘The Long walk to freedom’ is fascinating but also gives me a different revelation of thought. It is incredible yet painful to know about Nelson Mandela’s long walk to freedom. His early life was difficult, and I wonder how one man spends 27 years in prison, 18 of them in one tiny cell in Robben Island. During his prison sentence, he faced some painful experiences. His mother had died, and his eldest son died in a car accident. Mandela was not permitted to attend both funerals. His wife was left alone to raise his daughters, and Mandela had to endure many years on Robben Island. The experiences are painful, and though I have not read his complete account of Robben Island, the stories I heard have been shocking. But Nelson stated that prison was a learning experience for him. He went to jail an angry revolutionary, believing that violence was the only solution to fight the government. After his release, the fire inside him died down, and he preached forgiveness and unity. I wonder to myself, how does one man spend most of his life in jail, 18 of them in a tiny cell, and then comes out ready to forgive those who put him there. And then again, Jesus was mocked, beaten, and crucified, yet Jesus asked his Father to forgive his persecutors in the last moments.

Looking back at Naga history, it has been a long time since Nagas had their liberty. It’s been hard to imagine how A. Z. Phizo spent his exile in London — separated from home for his dream for the Naga people. Phizo and Mandela were both separated from their homes and families, and both were leaders, but never gave up. But I believe that one day the long walk for Nagas will end, and there will be a better future for our people.

“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.” – Nelson Mandela.

Kevile Dolie
Dalat International School
Penang, Malaysia

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By EMN Updated: Feb 10, 2020 11:39:28 pm