It was the film Sarafina! that sparked my interest in Nelson Mandela. The movie portrays students rioting as they protest apartheid rule in South Africa and also features a collection of inspiring songs calling for Mandela's release from prison.
I began to take interest in a man who I could not fully understand. Mandela had been imprisoned for 27 years, a time during which his son had died and been buried. Yet, he walked out of prison head held high and ascended to power where he would shake the hands of his jailers and dine with those that many deemed his enemy. Mandela's actions as president provided a sharp contrast to what I knew about my own country's (Kenya) history.
On Dec. 12, 2013, Kenya will mark 50 years of independence from Britain. History had taught me that my forefathers fought hard to liberate my nation from colonialists. When they were finally successful, the Britons had to go.
Life's circumstances had also conditioned me to believe that if someone inflicts pain on you, you gladly return the favor if the tables were turned. But Madiba, as his people fondly referred to Mandela, did neither of the above.
Mandela's life has inspired me to always seek a peaceful resolution through my own personal struggles. His long stay in prison has provided me with a basis of proof that by taking time and reflecting on my actions, I can make better decisions and life choices.
There are some who have criticized Mandela's way of life and his style of leadership. On the top of the list is the current president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe. Mugabe has been quoted saying Mandela is a coward who sat in prison doing nothing while he (Mugabe) fought colonialism. Mugabe's actual quote from the news report is too vulgar to print, but this comes from a man who has ruled his country with an iron fist for over 25 years and refuses to retire from the presidency despite his country's failing economy.
Mandela taught the world and Africa in particular how to retire gracefully as a political leader. Mugabe should probably borrow a page from Mandela's book, but I doubt that will happen. African leaders in general have cultivated a tendency to hold on to power until death. Mandela's short but sweet stint as president should serve as an example to all African leaders that it shouldn't take forever to fulfill your promises and deliver to your people.
To quote the words of writer Charles Bukowski: "When something bad happens, we raise a glass and drink to forget. If something good happens, we raise a glass and drink to celebrate. If nothing happens, we still raise a glass to make something happen."
So I raise my glass and mourn Nelson Mandela. I raise it again to celebrate his legacy, and one more time I raise it hoping that something will happen in Zimbabwe.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Moses Kirori is the coordinator of television programming in public affairs at Middlesex Community College in Lowell. He is a 2011 graduate of MCC and lives in Dracut.