By Joshua DuBois
As President Obama visits South Africa, Nelson Mandela lies dying. I—like millions of Americans who grew up thousands of miles away from the massacre at Sharpeville and the rally at Durban, and decades away from the trials at Pretoria and Rivonia—am grappling with what this means.
We know Mandela as the man in recent photos, the weathered and beautiful man with that bright young smile, surrounded by children and grandchildren.
We know that some of our parents and grandparents celebrated when he was released from prison, from a far away penitentiary called Robben Island, which has a receding place in the American mind. I vaguely remember as a child watching a large crowd hear Mandela speak, and then watching him march. I recall the raised fist, the turned head, the woman at his side.
I knew from trips to South Africa that he is more than a political leader there, more than a cultural icon, but a father, a guardian, a venerated friend. I heard it in the reverential way they said his name, Madiba. I saw it in eyes that watered when they spoke of him, their knowing smiles.
I know that certain debts are owed to Mandela. By Malan, and the National Party, and Verwoerd, and Botha, and all the people who locked him up for nearly 30 years. By the guards who would not let him attend the funerals of his mother or his son. By those in other governments who took far too long to stand by his side. By too many of his fellow Christians the world over who could not extend their prayers far enough to reach his cell, and petition God and South Africa for his release.
Read More The Meaning of Mandela – The Daily Beast.