Graduation Address 2013 Remembering Mandela


It would be remiss of us at this Graduation of the Class of 2013 if the Mico did not pay respect to Nelson Mandela at this passing and remember the gift of his life to all of us. Class of 2013, henceforth, your Graduation will be marked and remembered not by the calendar date of December 7, 2013 but by being at end of the week that Nelson Mandela died.

Let us all stand for one minute of Silence as a mark of respect at the passing of Nelson Mandela.

May his soul rest in peace and light eternal shine upon him!

Every so often in the course of human history, a life is lived at a particular time and in a specific context that has universal application for all times, all places, and all contexts. Nelson Mandela lived such a life beginning in the second decade of the twentieth and ending in the second decade of the twenty-first century.

What is it that has made Nelson Mandela one for the ages and the great icon of our times?

First, it is Resistance of the great evil of Apartheid. Nelson Mandela was a lawyer with a good practice with his partner Oliver Tambu. He had a nice family. However, he gave up a lucrative law practice, the comfort of his family at a great personal risk joined and then led the fight against the great evil of that system that divided white, black, coloured and Indians assigning great rights, privileges, wealth and benefits to whites demeaned all others and reserved the highest forms of denigration, exploitation, and injustices for blacks. He resisted evil not because of benefits that would accrue to him, but to restore the dignity, justice and well being for all who were oppressed by Apartheid and the common good of all South Africans. Mandela refused to rationalize, or compromise or remain silent in the face of this evil. He chose the path of active resistance of that evil.

Second, it is Resilience in imprisonment. Captured, found guilty of treason, sentenced to life imprisonment, and banished to a remote and isolated island the hope was that he and his fellow ANC members would descend into despair, be broken in spirit, defeated by divisions in their ranks and forgotten by the society in general. However, Mandela developed the skills necessary to live in solitary confinement in a Spartan cell seven feet by seven and half feet, rallied the ranks of fellow prisoners by doing the same hard manual work to which they were subjected, not accepting any privileges as their undisputed leader; learned the language of the oppressor including that of his jailors; displayed an indomitable spirit refined his philosophy of resistance, including the ideals for which the ANC fought. His resilience is clearly shown by the fact that twenty-seven years later at age 72 years old, he emerged from imprisonment ramrod straight in physical statue, cleared headed and astute in this thinking, gracious and generous in his dealings and a hero in the world.

Third, it is Reconciliation through Truth having ascended to power. There are only a few instances in human history where victims who have suffered prolonged persecution have survived and become victors over their oppressors including taking power from them. Fewer still are victims who have become victors holding the power once held by their oppressors have not sought some measure of retribution or revenge. Rare are those victorious victims who have used their power to seek reconciliation through truth and forgiveness involving both the oppressors and the oppressed. It is almost expected that oppressors who have been vanquished would be required to confess and be forgiven for atrocities that they are responsible for. But almost unheard of is the requirement for the victims of oppression to also confess to the atrocities they are responsible for in fight and struggle against the evil that was inflicted on them.

It has become almost commonplace for justification and excuse to be given for acts of physical violence carried out by the marginalized, by those who have been the victims of injustice, by those who have been excluded and those who have suffered persecution. But highly unusual is the circumstances that all who have acted violently, physical and structurally, to face the truth of what they did, acknowledge that what was done was wrong and to seek forgiveness from those they hurt or from the families whose members they killed.

The fact is Reconciliation through Truth not simply about the players but also the play. It is the affirmation of the sacredness of human life, the dignity of all human beings,  respect as the basis of all human relationships; truth as the prerequisite of peace and of democratic rule. Mandela’s mission was not to replace white rule with black rule. It was about justice, dignity, peace and the common good of all South Africans.

WHAM means what happens after Mandela? This is a question that has been raised ever since Mandela left the presidency after one term in office. It will become even more loudly expressed now that he has died. Recently former Archbishop Desmond Tuto, still the living conscience of South Africa, said he was not sure he would vote for the ANC given the splendor in which some in power now lives in contrast to the squalor that continues to mark the conditions of so many Black South Africans. But this question is not simply a South African question. It applies to all of our countries with majority black populations, which have histories of slavery, oppression, and colonialism.

Some of our forbearers, over several generations, had a clear vision of personal freedom and their mission to resist and strive to abolish slavery. Later and likewise some of our forbearers, over several generations, had a clear vision of national sovereignty and their mission to strive for political independence. Today we enjoy both personal freedom as individuals and collective freedom as a nation. However, in the 21st century, we appear to be lost in freedom. We do not appear to have any central focus, consensus or clear vision on how to use our personal freedoms for the common good of our country and people.

I believe that our forbearers of both eras would weep at the senseless slaughter now common among our young men. They would be driven to despair at the physical violence practiced by the dons and the structural violence that continue to be inflicted by those who have inherited powers once exercised by the colonial masters. They would unanimously agree that these are not what their sacrifices were intended to achieve.

We share with the rest of the Caribbean a blessed location on planet earth. Warm climate year round; great beaches; sands of various colours but mainly white; countless sunny cloudless days each year; cooling land breezes; refreshing sea breezes; and alluring biodiversity. The Caribbean as a place is often and rightly described as paradise. Yet, our modern history is that of generations of people catching hell on a daily basis. It is time to bring the human condition in sync with the flora and fauna.