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African Canadians Lionize Nelson Mandela, In Death

African Canadians Lionize Nelson Mandela, In Death

By Neil Armstrong
Pride Contributing Writer

The death of South Africa’s greatest known freedom fighter, statesman, anti-apartheid icon, former president of the African National Congress, first black and first democratically elected president, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, has cast a wide shadow across the world but has also opened a floodgate of tributes from around the world.

“Madiba,” as he was respectfully called by South Africans, a title derived from his Xhosa clan name, died at the age of 95 at his home in Johannesburg on December 5.

The enormity of his task as president was not lost on him on the day of his inauguration – May 10, 1994 – when he was overwhelmed with a sense of history.

In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, he writes: “That day had come through the unimaginable sacrifices of thousands of my people, people whose suffering and courage can never be counted or repaid. I felt that day, as I have on so many other days, that I was simply the sum of all those African patriots who had gone before me. That long and noble line ended and now began again with me. I was pained that I was not able to thank them and that they were not able to see what their sacrifices had wrought.”

Now, the world is thanking Mandela for his humanity and commitment to freedom and racial equality.

“I always knew that deep down in every human heart, there is mercy and generosity. No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite,” he writes in his autobiography.

Jean Augustine, former Member of Parliament, has visited South African ten times and has met the former South African president on three occasions.

Her first visit to the country was in 1994 when she went as an observer of the first democratic and nonracial general elections on behalf of the government of Canada.

Augustine, who is Ontario’s Fairness Commissioner, met Mandela four months after he was released from his 27-year imprisonment when he visited Canada on June 17, 1990.

While in prison, Mandela was aware of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s push in 1985 within the Commonwealth to pressure the South African government to end apartheid and the role Canada played in the international campaign against it.

Augustine helped to organize a black community breakfast meeting with him and his then wife, Winnie Mandela.

She met him again on his second trip when he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada in September 1998 and addressed more than 45,000 students at the SkyDome, and in November 2001, when he became one of only five foreigners to be made an honorary Canadian citizen.

He became the first living person to receive such an honorary citizenship.

“Mr. Mandela was a symbol, to me, of everything that could be good in the world. The fact that he did not carry with him the animosity, the pain, hurts and cruelties that were extended to him, that there wasn’t anything within himself that said he had to carry this or extend it to those who were so cruel to him. For me this has always been a signpost that one could reconcile, one could forgive, one can move forward,” she said.

She said the issue of reconciliation is one that is a model for countries, for conflict resolution around the world.

Augustine admired the fact that he stood tall in the face of his oppressors and represented the best of human values and forgiveness.

Senator Don Meredith said the iconic leader has long been a source of inspiration for him, personally, as well as millions of others around the world.

“President Mandela brought reconciliation and healing to a country struggling against apartheid; his soft-spoken speeches inspired hope amongst all who heard them. His post-politics charitable works are known the world over and he remained a vocal champion of causes he felt passionate about such as poverty, peace building and HIV/AIDS,” he said.

The Nobel Peace Prize 1993 was awarded jointly to Nelson Mandela and F. W. de Klerk “for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa,” states the Nobel Prize website.

“Nelson Mandela epitomized what I always wished I could be in life … wise while respectful of others, strong while sensitive to the plight of others, selfless and humble while recognizing that others might be looking to us for leadership, loving, forgiving and able to rise above all the really trivial aspects of life that we so often encounter. Few humans have made such an indelible impression on the world. The world is certainly a better place because he lived. May his memory and his mission of peace, respect and understanding live on for generations to come,” said Mary Anne Chambers, former Ontario government minister and MPP.

Mark Beckles, former CEO of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund (Canada) said Mandela was a source of personal inspiration and an individual who, through his life, forced other people to look at their own and the impact that they were having in this world.

Beckles met Mandela in South Africa in 2002 when he was attending the annual meeting of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund where all the affiliates of the fund reported on the work that they were doing to raise awareness of the rights of children and support for the causes that the South African leader supported.

They all had an opportunity to talk with him, and according to Beckles, “The immediate reaction is one of emotions and one struggles to connect one’s brain with one’s mouth and you babble like an idiot for the first couple of seconds. Then you’re able to collect yourself and to speak with some coherence and he was always the kind of individual that put you at ease. He never made it about himself. It was always about the cause and about the people, and the children, in particular.”

The Fund was established in Canada in 1998 but Mandela started it in his home country 1994 when he became the president of South Africa and committed half of his salary to fund the initiative.

Beckles said in 2010/2011, the Fund merged with the Stephen Lewis Foundation here in Canada to extend its influence and impact.

“Ambassador Stephen Lewis and Mandela are very close personal friends and shared a similar passion for children and youth, and remediating the impact of AIDS in South Africa,” he said.

Lewis said Mandela was everything the world has said of him.

“Madiba, as he’s affectionately called, was profound, humble, kind, calm, generous, strategic, funny, brimming with honesty and integrity, occasionally impish and with a heart that seemed as though it could encompass the world,” Lewis said.

“And encompass the world, it did. It’s always said that after 27 years in prison he turned the other cheek: in truth, he emerged from the fires of hell with nothing but wisdom and love, for his people and for the planet. There will never be such another,” said the former UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa.

With the passing of Mandela, Toronto lawyer, Munyonzwe Hamalengwa, said it is clearly time to resurrect the 2005 initiative on the Nelson Mandela Giants of Justice Award.

He said a protracted campaign will now be underway and he is appealing to the public to become a part of this campaign.

In a 2005 letter, Hamalengwa wrote, “It occurred to me that of all the awards, honors and accolades that Mandela has received throughout the world, there is none that represents his contribution to the struggle for justice, peace and human rights not only in South Africa, but the world over. It occurred to me that there ought to be created an award, named after Nelson Mandela to be given every year to an individual who has distinguished himself or herself in the selfless pursuit for justice nationally, regionally or internationally. This will preserve Mandela’s legacy in the pursuit of justice.”

The lawyer was pivotal in the creation of the Nelson Mandela Law Society at Osgoode Hall Law School in 1986, which was the first campus-based black law student group in Canada and was responsible for spearheading the award to Nelson Mandela of the first honorary Doctorate of Laws by a Canadian University in 1989 by Osgoode Hall School.

Hamalengwa also played a key role in the setting up of the Lawyers Against Apartheid in 1987 and founding the Nelson Mandela Academy of Applied Legal Studies for training of paralegals in Canada in 1996.

“Mandela represented the exponential expression of the difference that one person can make.  While he did not act alone and while he did not forge the first government of the ‘New South Africa’ alone, it was his lone ability to survive and endure his years of imprisonment, not only intact, but in a manner that allowed him to forgive and include his oppressors that I am most struck by. In person, he generated a warmth and grace that is rare. He followed the dictates of his conscience for himself and for his community which impacted the world,” said Rosemary Sadlier, president of the Ontario Black History Society.

Pauline Christian, president of the Black Business and Professional Association (BBPA), said, leaders like Mandela, Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi are a source of guidance and inspiration.

“I believe that I am, and our community is, indebted to Mandela for sacrificing his life to make our society a better place to live. Mandela, publicly shared and lived a life that was committed to achieving freedom, an ideal that he was prepared to die for. What an extraordinary human being,” she said.

She said Mandela was a beacon of hope for all around the world.

“His strategic approach of inclusion and collaboration of all powers- that- be, influenced by Gandhi’s teachings, heavily contributed to Blacks being acknowledged as people of significance around the world,” said the BBPA president.

For weeks, the Nelson Mandela Park Public School in Regent Park planned a community screening of the film, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, for December 5 at the Cineplex at Yonge-Dundas.

On the day of the screening when the news broke in the afternoon that the man in whose honour the school was renamed and who attended the ceremony with his wife, Graca Machel, on November 17, 2001 had died, it set the wheels of organizing in motion to celebrate his life with a special assembly, held at the school on December 6.

“I felt a great sense of sadness as I think everyone connected to the school and people across the world have been feeling. But at the same time, he is such an important figure in our lives – a once-in-a-generation kind of leader – that we felt we don’t want to wait until Monday to celebrate his legacy, that we would pull something together today,” Jason Kandankery, principal, said.

He said the school bears the name of a man who is all about integrity, courage and strength of conviction.

“Coming out of prison, it would have been so easy to have a heart filled with hate but instead he came with a message of love and peace, and let’s make the change at the ballot box and let’s reshape South Africa for all people of South Africa, not just the white, and was able to be an inspiration for the whole world,” said Kandankery.

Ainsworth Morgan, vice principal, said Mandela’s visit to the school in 2001 was an incredible moment because outside of his family, he is the only person he looked to as a hero.

“To be able to be in the same space with him was an incredible thing and to see him moving to the drums, it speaks to the essence of who we are. Jason and I were here until midnight last night making calls and people just said what can I do,” said Morgan.

Donna Quan, director of the TDSB, said flags would be flown at half-mast at schools until the state funeral of the former South African president.

Muhtadi, well-known drummer, in Toronto said he received a call at 9 p.m. on Thursday to participate in the assembly the next morning.

Some of the drummers were the same ones who welcomed Mandela in 2001 when the South African leader heard the drums and danced his way from the entrance of the gym to the podium at the renaming ceremony.

“You are the future leaders, not only of Toronto, not only of Canada, but of the entire world,” Mandela told the students.

The gymnasium where the assembly was held was adorned with images of Mandela and two of his quotes: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” and “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling but in rising every time we fall.”

Trevlyn Kay, a poet and former student of the school, said Mandela means to her, “a very inspirational, strong, resilient human being” who it is difficult to sum up in one word. She said he captivates many things and gives her hope.

“From watching his documentary last night, I said that no matter what my day’s forecast may be, if I think about him or I think about his story, that can alter my mood quick because I feel like the fight never ends. With his story, you can see that there is hope beyond,” she said.

Lloyd McKell, a retired senior executive of the Toronto District School Board, also met Mandela on his three visits to Canada but has followed his story and the struggle of South Africa for 40 years.

“His passing is for me an extremely sad event, personally sad. In fact, I have the same emotions that I did have when my own father died thirteen years ago. But at the same time, I feel a need to celebrate because of what Mandela has meant not only to South Africa and not only to the children here and to the school but really to the world,” said McKell who attended the special assembly.

He said Mandela’s life would continue to be an inspiration to all those young people who will be in a position to make the world a better place.

As senior member of the TDSB and a member of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund Committee, when the committee knew that Mandela was coming to Canada to receive honorary citizenship, members thought it would be an honour to have a school named after him.

He used his position at the TDSB to move that idea forward and once a harmonious school renaming policy was devised and TDSB approval granted in principle, there was a community process involving the principal of the school and community members to consult with them about renaming the school.

The path was not easy because the school is the oldest public school in Toronto with people who identify strongly with the school and its name, Park Public School.

The ultimate decision was a compromise.

“We had to keep the name, ‘Park’, in it so ‘Nelson Mandela Park Public School’ and everyone was happy and then we proceeded with the formal renaming. The formal renaming was timed to coincide with Mandela’s visit and so with his people, we worked to ensure that he could come for the renaming,” said McKell.

In 1990 when Mandela came to Canada, McKell was also on the Mandela Reception Committee and arranged for him to address a gathering of students, of various high schools, at Central Technical, which was Toronto’s largest high school.

Mandela addressed the students sharing a bit of the history of the struggle in South Africa but he also appealed to the students to raise funds for the young people and children of South Africa who suffered under apartheid.

The students of Toronto subsequently raised over $25,000 that was sent to South Africa.

McKell’s introduction to South Africa and the struggle to achieve freedom came when he was a foreign student from Trinidad & Tobago attending the University of Toronto.

Among the friends he made on campus were South African exiles and he began to learn for the first time what the situation in South Africa was all about and what human repression was really all about from the daily experiences of people who lived under the apartheid system.

“I was stunned at how a system of government could officially relegate the majority of its citizens to such inhuman conditions, conditions that existed under apartheid,” he said, noting that the impression stayed with him and he has always been interested in the developing South African story, including the story of Mandela.

In 1986 as chair of the Black Development Committee working with United Way to get it to fund more black agencies in Toronto, the committee asked United Way if it would support an arts against apartheid festival.

He became chair of the Toronto Arts Against Apartheid Festival Foundation and its aim was to raise consciousness in Canada about the situation in South Africa and to create a movement of anti-apartheid support.

They got artistes like Salome Bey, Bruce Cockburn, and others together to put on a festival for a week.

McKell said it was successful in raising awareness and because Mandela was in jail at the time, they brought Bishop Desmond Tutu.

Stephen Lewis and Harry Belafonte were the honorary chairs of the festival and the festival stirred McKell’s commitment to support Canadian initiatives for the ending of apartheid.

Anthony Sampson, author of, Mandela: The Authorized Biography, writes: “As President he had seen the persistence of apartheid attitudes, and how many strongholds of racialism remained – in the military, in business or in the media. But his experience had persuaded him that reconciliation could be achieved. He was effectively refounding a nation, stamping it with the concept of racial tolerance and cooperation as firmly as his predecessors had stamped it with intolerance and segregation.”

His hunger for freedom of his people led him to write in Long Walk to Freedom, “I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed. A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is scheduled to travel to Johannesburg, accompanied by his wife Laureen and a Canadian delegation.  Former prime ministers, Jean Chretien, Kim Campbell and Brian Mulroney and former governor general Michaelle Jean will join Harper on the trip.

Official services begin December 10 with a major memorial planned at FNB Stadium, located on the edge of Soweto. The stadium was the place where Mandela made his last public appearance at the World Cup final in July 2010.

Mandela’s body will rest in state from December 11 to 13 at the Union Buildings in South Africa’s capital, Pretoria.

A state funeral will be held on December 15 in Qunu, Mandela’s rural hometown in Eastern Cape Province.

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