Growing up in Uganda in the 1960s, I became keenly aware of this man, Nelson Mandela, who was one of the leaders of a group that was disrupting the status quo of apartheid in South Africa.
On TV, radio and at family gatherings his name came up frequently. I would listen with little interest, but even as a child I knew something significant was happening in South Africa. As the years went by different names emerged like Sisulu, Tutu, Biko and Mbeki, but none as often and with more zeal than Mandela.
So, I began reading books and articles about him and later books he had written.
As the world prays and waits for news of the ailing 94-year-old icon, I am reminded of a letter he wrote to his former wife, Winnie Mandela, while in Kroonstad Prison in February, 1975. I believe this sums up the character of this man who has become a symbol of freedom, peace and forgiveness for so many.
“Incidentally, you may find that the cell is an ideal place to learn to know yourself, to search realistically and regularly the process of your own mind and feelings. In judging our progress as individuals we tend to concentrate on external factors such as one’s social position, influence and popularity, wealth and standard of education. These are, of course, important in measuring one’s success in material matters and it is perfectly understandable if many people exert themselves mainly to achieving all these. But internal factors may be even more crucial in assessing one’s development as a human being. Honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, pure generosity, absence of vanity, readiness to serve others – qualities which are within easy reach of every soul – are the foundation of one’s spiritual life. Development in matters of this nature is inconceivable without serious introspection, without knowing yourself, your weaknesses and mistakes. At least, if nothing else, the cell gives you the opportunity to look daily into your entire conduct, to overcome the bad and develop whatever is good in you. Regular meditation, say about 15 minutes a day before you turn in, can be fruitful in this regard. You may find it difficult at first to pinpoint the negative features of your life, but the 10th attempt may yield rich rewards. Never forget that the saint is a sinner who keeps on trying.”
– Conversations with Myself, 2010, McMillan Publishers Limited
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