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Working Backwards: Getting to Know Mandela by Kobina Wright (USA)

I was in school in 1990 when Nelson Mandela was released from prison after 27 years of incarceration. Just as I am now, I was in California and the local media, just as the national media, were all over this historic event. My young mind was able to grasp that this was a big deal but I had to work backwards in order to appreciate the magnitude of such an event. It wasn’t until Mandela’s release that I began learning who he was.

Thanks to the movie “Cry Freedom,” (starring Denzel Washington) released a few years earlier, I learned about the life, contribution and heartbreaking death of Steven Biko, the young South African activist who was among key leaders in the fight against apartheid, who was savagely beaten by the South African police and who died from the beating while being transported to a distant hospital that would treat a Black man in 1977. 

Because apartheid was not taught or discussed while I was in school, and my parents didn’t broach the subject – hardly at all if ever, my knowledge of the politics and leadership of the antiapartheid movement was less than minimal. Downright pathetic in my opinion as a parent.

For the majority of Bikos short life (he died at the age of 30) Mandela was locked away (1962-1990), hidden, but unbroken. After his release, I felt something… I wasn’t sure what since I wasn’t enlightened as to what he stood for to the South African people and the world, or even what he had done to be locked away for so long by the government. It was in 1994, however, when I was blown away by Mr. Mandela. Four short years out of prison and he became South Africa’s first elected Black president. How could an ex-con attain such a position in only four years?

As I grew as a person, and continued to watch him throughout his presidency (as much as I could from where I was/am), I began to realize why people in crowds wanted to touch him, pass their children to him, cheer and dance for him – why they loved him so much. It was quite moving to see. He was a charming, unbroken, passionate advocate for the people. Discovering who Mandela was and had been, I was glad that a man with such heart and strength had such support in his own country.

In reviewing Mandela’s life and legacy I feel that it is important to remember first that Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was a man in all qualities of desires, strengths and imperfections. His life, even the imprisoned one, meant so much to so many and brought about a change that touched the world. What Mandela was made of is not absent in the rest of us, though dormant in more than a few. His legacy stands among other greats. Other people throughout history whose passions allowed them to act in such a way it move the world in their own lives and many more long after their deaths. I am certainly grateful that in my lifetime, a person like Mandela existed and I was able to see him smile (even if it was only on television), and make such an enormous difference in the lives of a great many.

Writer and artist, Kobina Wright, is a California native with a BA in journalism from California State University, Fullerton and currently the editor and contributor to The Wrighter, an arts and culture blog. She wrote her third volume of poetry titled, “Say It! Say Gen-o-cide!!” − dedicated to the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. In 2009 Wright co-authored a volume of nuler poetry with friend and fellow poet, Lisa Bartley Lacey, titled “A Crime And A Simplification Of Something Sublime.” In 2010 she wrote a volume of nuler poetry titled, “50” dedicated to the late Michael Jackson.

Wright has been featured in a variety of publications in recent years including, in 2014, Blue Lake Review and Extract(s).

I joined WCA to bring love, creativity and my perspective to anyone interested in receiving such gifts.

As with all articles published in WCA, the opinions expressed and factual research are entirely those of the article’s author.


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