Forgiveness, Fairness, Equality, Justice…Lessons on South Africa

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
– Nelson Mandela in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom

Last night I read about the passing of Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid activist and South Africa’s first black president from 1994 to 1999.  For a number of reasons, we took the morning to learn more about South Africa’s history.

It just so happened that the past two days we had been learning about the British Empire.  We’ve been studying India… and are moving into the twentieth century and are talking about the British rule in India (and next week will be learning about Gandhi). Yesterday, we had even colored in this map showing just some of the countries that were under British colonial rule.



We took a slight tangent and spent this morning learning about apartheid in South Africa.  The kids and I watched Cry, the Beloved Country. It was set in late 1940s. Although the movie really doesn’t go into much detail about the violence of apartheid, it was just enough to talk openly with the kids about what it was like and how difficult it was to live under that system.

At the end of the movie the black priest in Johannesburg said that he was forsaking the world in order to spend time praying that his one great fear would not come to pass… “That one day when the white man turns to loving, he will find that we [blacks] have turned to hating.”  After the movie we talked about that one fear that priest had… How difficult it would be to move beyond past wrongs and past hates. And how difficult it can be to forgive.

We then talked quite a bit about Nelson Mandela and his extraordinary legacy.  We talked about how difficult it must have been for Mandela to spend 27 years in jail… and come out to be the leader of South Africa and to be forgiving, fair, loving and peaceful.

Mandela said in 1964:

“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 will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for. But, my lord, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

What an extraordinary man the world has lost. What a powerful lesson for the kids… to see someone like that teaching all of us the power of love, peace, equality and forgiveness.

Some powerful quotes about Nelson Mandela have come out in the past day or so…

  • “His passion for freedom and justice created new hope for generations of oppressed people worldwide.” — Jimmy Carter
  • “Mandela’s strength as a teacher is that he not only advised us what to do, he showed us how.” –Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright
  • “He conceived a model for mortal enemies to overcome their hatred and find a way through compassion to rebuild a nation based on truth, justice and the power of forgiveness.” –Musician Paul Simon
  • “From prisoner to president, Nelson Mandela was tireless in his pursuit of Equality and justice for all people.” –Bill and Melinda Gates
  • “Nelson Mandela showed us how to love rather than hate, not because he had never surrendered to rage or violence, but because he learned that love would do a better job.” –Irish musician Bono

…On another note, the kids and I also talked about their grandfather (my husband’s father) who spent much of his career in the foreign service. His last posting in the early 1990s was at the U.S. embassy in South Africa.  He lost his life on his way to work in Pretoria. My husband, who was in college in the U.S. at the time, was planning to spend the Christmas holidays with his family in South Africa. Instead, he had to fly there for his father’s memorial service. His dad was later buried in Arlington Cemetery (for his service during the Vietnam War).

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