I enjoyed watching the movie Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom a few days ago. The film is very topical, of course, with the great man having just passed away and I found myself totally engrossed for over 2 hours as Mandela’s life story unfolded. It was quite thought provoking as well – the film, while clearly telling the tale of a very determined and courageous man, does not present Mandela as some kind of saint.
Indeed, Mandela himself once said, “I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.” And certainly that iron determination seems to have been a driving force throughout his life, during the early days of the struggle against apartheid, during the long years in prison and then in the painful negotiations with the white Afrikaners which eventually led to a free and democratic South Africa. As early as 1952, Mandela predicted that a black person would someday be elected president of South Africa and believed that he himself would be that person. Indicative of his commitment and determination were the closing words of his 4 hour speech before he was sentenced in 1964:
“I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
This determination that there should be a change in the repressive and violent white South African regime was sustained during his 27 years of imprisonment. Towards the end when he entered into negotiations with the government, although he proved himself to be a superb negotiator and pragmatist, who was comfortable with compromise and impatient with the doctrinaire, he refused to compromise on the end goal of a fully democratic state where there were equal rights of all the citizens, black and white.
With Mandela in mind, then, a couple of things occur to me as we enter a new year. What in life do you and I have to be determined about – what vision might sustain us through long years of imprisonment? The ancient wisdom of Israel said, “without a vision, the people perish.” Mandela lived for the long term, with a grand vision in sight.
Harriet Tubman was former black slave, who escaped and then made more than nineteen missions to rescue more than 300 slaves using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. She subsequently campaigned for women’s suffrage. She was a women with a vision about changing her world. She said, “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”
And lest we think changing the world for better is beyond us – consider Malala Yousafzai, now only aged 16, who has been campaigning for women’s rights in one of the most dangerous places in the world to do so, in Taliban-held north west Pakistan, since she was 12. Despite being shot in an assignation attempt, Malala, still a teenager has been named by Time Magazine as one of The 100 Most Influential People In The World. She said, “Let us remember: One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world.”
Time to get hold of something you can be determined about; time to change the world; time to get moving!
Here’s Bottleneck John with Mississippi Fred McDowell’s You Gotta Move
And finally, here’s Malala