“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children” – Nelson Mandela
A close-up of a detail of a South African Hundred Rand banknote, featuring an engraving of the face of iconic statesman Nelson Mandela, giving his trademark smile. South African wildlife and African designs form the watermarked background. Photo: Istockphoto. Copyright.
By Zulfikarali M. Khoja
(special to Simerg)
My diverse background has provided me with three world-class heroes. As a Gujarati speaking Canadian, Ghandi stands out as my hero. The Mahatma found the roots of his policy of non-violence in South Africa where he experienced racism in its extreme form. There is a saying that India gave South Africa Ghandi and in return South Africa gave India the Mahatma.
Heroes Gandhi, Mandela, and Pearson. Image: Wikipedia photos.
As a proud Canadian I found my hero in Lester Pearson, Nobel Prize winner for Peace. It is while sitting in a geography class in a segregated school in Pretoria that I was introduced to this figure who originated the Blue Helmeted Peace Keepers to the world. At that time I dreamt of going to Canada. My dream came true!!
As a South African born Canadian there is so much one could write about Madiba, My Hero! I shall restrict myself to two things.
Nelson Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island for 18 of the 27 years he served behind bars before the fall of apartheid. Map: Wikipedia.
Mandela’s cell at Robben Island. Photo: Wikipedia.
His capacity for forgiveness was so deep and pure that it is difficult to imagine. I was fortunate enough to visit Robben Island. The small cell he spent 27 years and the conditions under which he had spent day after day breaking rocks was heart breaking. Tears rolled down my face as I stood in the middle of the quarry. Yet under these awful conditions he stood as a role model for his fellow prisoners, he studied at night, including Afrikaans, the language of his oppressors. How else would he be able to communicate with his prison guards and understand his enemy? How else would be able to negotiate without knowing his enemy. He believed very strongly that forgiveness does not change the past but opens the future. A future for all South Africans and for the world where is civil strife.
In one of the interviews he was asked what did you miss the most while in prison. His response was the interaction with children. Soon after he became the President of new South Africa he established the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund (NMCF). Fifty percent of his salary was donated to establish this fund. With headquarters in Johannesburg the NMCF has affiliates in various parts of the world, including Canada.
Nelson Mandela with Graça Machel created a bold new movement to turn the world around for millions of children. Photo credit: UNICEF
I was fortunate to be the NMCF Chapter Chair for Ottawa. This opportunity to share the ideals and vision of Madiba to the youth of Ottawa through Youth Conferences on the Hill and extra-curricular activities in school was an enriching experience beyond measure. The Brookfield High School Choir sang South African songs throughout the city and at a variety of public events. This was only one of the ways in which Madiba’s vision was shared with Ottawa citizens.
As an educator and mediator I have been fortunate to have had these lifetime enriching experiences which I share with my children and especially my grandchildren. They are already following in their grandfather’s footsteps.
Date posted: Saturday, December 7, 2013.
Copyright: Zulfikarali M. Khoja.
Please also see Khoja’s piece Ismaili Penmanship in 1906 contributed for Simerg’s special series I Wish I’d Been There.
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