Long Walk to Freedom

The radio was company as the miles of motorway rolled by. Listening wasn't easy; one of the speakers no longer responded to heavy arm encouragement and had retired. Turning the volume up only served to make the other one distort. Concentration was required to catch the exact details of the broadcast over the road noise and intermittent groans of the heater fan that was running flat out to keep the night time winter cold at bay. There was no shock to the announcement; it was expected but it was one of the moments of note. A "Where were you when?" moment. I was north bound on the M1 and Nelson Mandela had apparently died. The 5th December 2013. My journey that night seemed long. It was not. Madiba understood "long" far better than I.

The recent anniversary of the assination of JFK came into my thoughts; that other icon of the "Where were you when?" elite persona. When Kennedy was proudly stating "Ich bin ein Berliner" state police in South Africa were planning a raid at Liliesleaf Farm and Mandela was already serving his first 5 year term. The established regime in South Africa wanted the ANC leadership and anti-apartheid movement silenced and Mandela faced new charges of sabotage which he admitted; defending himself and delivering the famous "speech from the dock" before being sentenced to life imprisonment and hard labour in the lime quarry at Robben Island.

"During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this 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."

He survived the ordeal until his final release in 1990. The regime had blundered. The prosecution had asked for the death penalty but this was denied. Mandela had already become the focal point of the anti-apartheid movement around the world. The South African Regime became the pariah of the international community. While imprisoned Mandela wrote; and the manuscript was smuggled out of the country to later become a book and basis of Anant Singh's film The Long Walk to Freedom, directed by Justin Chadwick.

Madiba understood the power of time and steadfast patience. He refrained from the language of blame and recrimination. He spoke of vision and a new dawn; He understood leadership. He was a prisoner of his country for 27 years and its president for 5. That's a long walk for any man.

I contemplated on how different it would have been if our web reach and social networks had been around earlier during those long years. Would the regime in South Africa have taken that action or even dared to contemplate such. Mandela survived from twilight to see his dawn. Few people step up so high to mark the world with iconic status. The aforementioned JFK for sure, Martin Luther King, Mikhail Gorbachev, Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi spring to mind. Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela stands with them. He has finally found his freedom having walked so far.

The signpost ahead marked the exit to my hometown destination. I turned the radio off and contented in the company of the "grumbling" heater fan. The drive hadn't been so long at all really; just a night time hop up the motorway after a fortnight working away.

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