This has nothing to do with bikes, but it is so important to me that I have to post it anyway.

Growing up as a white kid in South Africa, I shared one thing with all the other white kids – we feared the day when violent change would come to our country. The catchphrase was “when the revolution comes” – repeated over and over, it carried all the weight of an impending disaster, when the oppressed black people in our country would inevitably rise up and wreak terrible revenge on their white oppressors – us. Whether you were in favour of apartheid, opposed to it, or just oblivious, as a white child or adult, you were part of the oppressive minority. We knew the day of payback was coming, and we lived in fear of it for decades. We saw it happen in many of the countries around us, and we had nightmares about the day when it would be our turn.

But that day of retribution never came.

When democracy finally came to our country, and the black majority was enfranchised, there was no violence (apart from some violent but abortive attempts at disrupting the elections from lunatic-fringe far right white people). There was no vengeance. We were not massacred, and we were not expelled. We were not “chased into the sea”, nor were we dispensed with “one boer, one bullet” (one farmer, one bullet”), to use the terms of some lunatic-fringe far right black people. Instead, we were forgiven, and a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up (under the leadership of another immensely great man, Bishop Desmond Tutu) to allow some of the worst oppressors to confess and be forgiven, and to bring closure to victims.

The reason for this miracle lies in just one man: Nelson Mandela.


With literally saint-like powers of forgiveness, he forgave all of us. As one of the most oppressed among the oppressed, he served as a shining example to the rest of the oppressed to also forgive. He saw to it that there was no revenge, and he helped us all move forward together. Thanks to him, not a single one of my family or friends (whether black or white) was hurt in the transition.

I once wrote an essay about Nelson Mandela in which I recalled:

When Mandela was finally freed, in 1990, I watched the event on television.

Together with millions of other white South Africans, I experienced profound shock as a dignified, kindly old man shuffled slowly from the gates of the Victor Verster Prison, leaning on the arm of his imposing wife, Winnie. Where was the monster we had imagined? The monster we were able to imagine, because [censorship had prevented us from knowing] … the truth? The camera zoomed onto Mandela’s face. I saw a sun-weathered face, wrinkled in lines of kindness and forgiveness – even though the sun had weathered that face as he stoically performed hard labour on a barren rock for years. I felt the hairs rise on the back of my neck as I realized I was looking not at a monster, but at one of the greatest men who has ever graced our green earth. After 26 years of imprisonment, this man had emerged with a heart filled with love, ready to forgive and rebuild.

The great man made a short, simple speech, and concluded by saying:

“IN CONCLUSION, I WISH TO GO TO MY OWN WORDS DURING MY TRIAL IN 1964 – THEY ARE AS TRUE TODAY AS THEY WERE THEN: 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 OPPORTUNITY. IT IS AN IDEAL WHICH I HOPE TO LIVE FOR AND TO ACHIEVE. BUT, IF NEED BE, IT IS AN IDEAL FOR WHICH I AM PREPARED TO DIE.”

As it turned out, he lived for that ideal, and he achieved that ideal. And now with his passing, South Africans have to let him go in peace, and find a way to carry on his spirit without him. I pray that they will find a way.

What I am sure of is this: I saw the gates of Victor Verster prison open wide in 1990, and I saw a great man walk out into the light of freedom. I am absolutely certain that today, in 2013, the gates of heaven are open even wider, to admit perhaps the most deserving human being who has ever lived. And I have no doubt that the angels are singing.

Hamba Gahle, Go Well, Nelson Mandela

3 thoughts on “The Passing of Nelson Mandela: The Angels are Singing

  1. I shed tears for all the pain he and so so many people faced/face each day. My heart is heavy for his passing but I am overjoyed that he lived! Thank goodness for Nelson Mandela. His humility and ability to lead with love and forgiveness is astounding. I remember marching for his release… What would have happened with out him, I shutter to think. Thank you Joe, for your beautiful writing and allowing me to understand just that much more about this great man.

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