844 days, 20,256 hours, 1,215,360 minutes, or 72,921,600 seconds. That is the approximate duration of my world tour. I never wanted it to end and now, in a manner of speaking, I suppose it never has to. If you wish to go by country do so by clicking on one above. They are numbered in the order I visited them, more or less. If you enjoy reading about it even a tenth as much as I enjoyed living it then you will not have wasted your time. Grab a refreshing beverage, settle in a comfortable chair, and make a journey across the world, experiencing it as I did. Then get off your ass and check it out for yourself. You're not getting any younger.

Dinner with Nelson Mandela (South Africa)

“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”
 – Nelson Mandela

April 14th, 2011 - Not what you think. As much as I would love to be Mandela’s dinner guest I am pretty sure I am waaaaay down on his list of potential invitees, somewhere between Newt Gingrich and Rebecca Black (I bet he loves ‘Friday’ as much as I do).  I often wonder about having the chance to meet anyone in the world and with whom I would choose to spend my time. I believe Nelson Mandela would be my first choice (Muammar Gaddafi would be a distant second. I’d love to sit back and listen to him rant. WTF is with that dude?).  He is without a doubt one of the most amazing people I have ever had the pleasure of researching. While we were in Cape Town Leslie and I stopped by the Slave Lodge Museum for some insight into the Mother City’s dubious past. 

It is a wealth of fascinating information about the colony’s function in the mechanism of slavery that saw folks brought from as far away as Indonesia.  But as intriguing as it was its draw paled in comparison to the Mandela exhibit housed inside.

Madiba’, as he is affectionately known, has many outstanding qualities, none more remarkable than his quasi-divine ability to forgive. He lost almost 27 years of his life, the best years of his life, to incarceration at the hands of a government few could contend was legitimate. Some might argue that his confinement was warranted considering his actions. The fact remains that he was the leader of Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC) in the early 60s. He did support a sabotage campaign targeting military and government objectives and further recognized the potential need for guerrilla warfare should this plan fail to end apartheid. So what if he managed to carry out the mission of MK (short for Umkhonto we Sizwe) without causalities.  He was an enemy of the state.

And what a state it was. It became increasingly clear that pacifism and peaceful protest would not usher in the demise of apartheid, at least during that period. So, against every fiber of his being (he was a staunch supporter of Mahatma Gandhi), he agreed to a limited (i.e. no causalities) campaign of violence against symbols of apartheid. But he had no illusions. Violence is still violence regardless of causalities.

After his arrest and subsequent trial he stood firm in defense of his actions and went so far as to explain the tactics employed by MK in order to show the world what the struggle had come to and why his actions and the actions of his followers were necessary in the face of blatant injustice (injustice the world turned a blind eye to for years to come). He concluded his opening statement at trial with these words:

"During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to the struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. 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 to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

You would think that spending over 26 years in prison would do nothing to soften one’s disposition but, remarkably, any bitterness in Mandela’s heart was sequestered somewhere no one on the outside could detect. Upon his release nobody was quite sure what would ensue, least of all the apartheid government. This had been the case since 1985 when President Botha agreed to release Mandela on the condition that he agree to reject armed struggle as a political tool. They were scared shitless. They had a reason to be. His response was simple:

"What freedom am I being offered while the organisation of the people remains banned? Only free men can negotiate. A prisoner cannot enter into contracts."

Not hard to see his background in law shining through there. You can imagine the consternation of the white South African minority upon Mandela’s release. What would he do? Payback, as they say, is a bitch. Picture an enormous pile of kindling wood dipped in gasoline floating atop a lake of nitroglycerine adjacent to a dynamite factory and you might have some idea of the potential powder keg that was South Africa in the early 90s. Now picture Mandela as the match. One need only look at the modern history of neighboring Zimbabwe to appreciate the potential.

Lesser men may have succumbed to the need for vengeance or the perceived imperative for ‘justice’. Thankfully, Mandela is a different breed, the rarest of rare. He was absolutely sure of one thing: the only way for South Africa to recover and move toward prosperity was forgiveness and reconciliation. And he knew that since the eyes of the world were focused on him it was up to him to lead the way. And that is exactly what he did from the moment he became a free man once again.

I suppose I could point to Mandela’s establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission after becoming president to underscore his commitment to forgiveness and the subsequent progress that he believed would inevitably result there from but I think the following anecdote says it all.  In 1995 President Mandela turned up at 1995 Rugby World Cup Final sporting Francois Pienaar’s number six Springbok jersey.  No big deal, right? Wrong. Rugby in South Africa had become synonymous with apartheid and the oppressive white minority. He stunned everyone. It is almost impossible to underestimate the significance of this gesture. Clearly, his desires were genuine and even his detractors (there were many) had to tip their hat on this one.  And yes, this incident was at the very heart of Clint Eastwood’s Invictus starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon in case it seems familiar.

So if given my choice of dinner guests Madiba it would be. To look into this man’s eyes and listen as he explains the origin of his seemingly endless well of personal amnesty and indefatigable dedication to the principles of human equality would be an experience akin to winning the lottery. I’m not big on the concept of personal heroes but if I were forced to list one it would be Nelson Mandela.

Below is a poem often recited by Mandela aloud to himself and his fellow prisoners on Robben Island. It gave him strength and was an indispensable source of his own empowerment. For him it was the very essence of self-discipline.

William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

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'Love me or hate me, but spare me your indifference.' -- Libbie Fudim