Dr. Valda Henry

Dr. Valda Henry

This week, we ponder on the life and lessons of Nelson “Madiba” Mandela. He was a true statesman. He taught us that we do not have to make our circumstances define who we are. We are to define our circumstances. He taught us forgiveness, tolerance, acceptance of others, though with differing views and ideologies and the power of positive thinking, words and action. He also taught us about selflessness, believing in a cause and having the conviction to endure pain, imprisonment and death for that belief. He taught us about facing and conquering our fears, of celebrating the successes of and recognising others and he taught us about the importance of family and education. As he stated, “Education is the most powerful weapon, which you can use to change the world,” thus saying to us peace is a tool of change. He taught us to be true to self.

I cannot talk about Mandela without mentioning Winnie. I must confess I have special love and admiration for Winnie, notwithstanding her failings, who never let the world forget Mandela while he was incarcerated. I firmly believed that were it not for her, the world would have forgotten. Unfortunately, their marriage did not survive his freedom, but I believe (and really hope!) that their love did, though the expression changed, and he remarried, Graca Machel, whom he later referred to as, “my life.”

I was moved to reconnect with a long lost friend from South Africa on hearing of the death of Mandela. In honour of his memory, I publish an excerpt of an email I sent to my family and friends on November 18, 2000, on my return from South African and Namibia.

“Hi Folks

I am going to live somewhere in Southern Africa when I am through the Phd!! I love the place. I had a wonderful, amazing, enriching time in Africa. I was so at peace, contented and at home that I know that I belong there. And you can all come to visit me on holiday!!!!

I have come to realise that the image that we see of Africa is so distorted. Yes, there is poverty, great inequality, violence, civil wars etc., but there is also so much beauty, development and goodness in Africa. I now also know the reason behind Africans’ resilience in the face of so much adversity: nature. You see, you cannot help but be inspired and stand in awe by God’s handiwork in Africa, and understand that there is something bigger than you here. And this humility gives you faith that no matter what is happening, good or bad, is just for a time, and that everything works out according to God’s Master Plan.

Cape Town has a buzz about it that is almost like New York, but nature surrounds all of man’s handiwork and this makes it a truly beautiful, peaceful place. On a windy night atop Signal Hill looking down on the city, you feel so in tune with God and nature. A visit to Robben Island makes you realise how truly remarkable Mandela and the others who were imprisoned are, to be able to forgive so easily and freely. You actually get transported in time and can feel the oppression of the place and you truly understand the power of forgiveness. I think there is a lesson for all of us here. Pretoria, the capital of apartheid, has a sereneness about it, that you wonder how a group of people could believe they were the master race. I did not see much of Johannesburg proper but what strikes you is the network of roads and the construction of homes and of course, the mountains towering in the background. You just can’t escape nature here. In Soweto you see the side of Africa that is portrayed by the West, but here you also see some development but more importantly, the triumph of the human spirit and the goodness of humankind. The people are so warm and welcoming and they make you feel like family.

Namibia is desert country, but though much dryer and certainly much bigger, it had a feel of Dominica. On a few occasions, I found myself asking whether I was in Dominica or Namibia!!! And there is something I have never seen before: the desert and the ocean merging. I think this is a contradiction in itself, but in Swapokmund, there it is: on one side the desert and sand dunes, and the other the Atlantic Ocean and at one point the merger of the two. Truly nature at it’s best. And then in Namibia there is Okupaka Park: a guesthouse and restaurant, where you are cautioned from the entrance and throughout the journey that you are entering at your own risk, as lions and crocodile abound.

We went to the restaurant and environmentalist would be happy, as there was just creative use of nature. The restaurant is designed around a huge tree, which serves as the bar, and there is such innovative use of trees and other natural things to create an atmosphere of true serenity. And the best part of it all, about 8 pm, the wild animals come in droves to graze, drink water and frolick. Just entering that place, no matter what’s going on, you put it aside and just immerse yourself in the atmosphere of tranquility and peace. The people are so warm, open, welcoming and give you so much love. I have met some people who I know will be friends for life, for they opened not just their homes but also their hearts so unconditionally, that you know that they are God’s angels sent to meet you. And the food is so mouth watering good that it puts a smile on your face and music in your heart!! So you now see, why I am going back?!!!…”

Nelson Madiba Mandela, I say Thank You for the example of your life, for living your life authentically. May the angels come out to meet and take you home! May your family find comfort in their memories of your time with them and the knowledge that you touched the lives of many around the world. Sleep Well!

Until we meet again, May the Lord Continue to Keep Us in the Palm of His Hands!