Friday, April 25, 2014

Freedom Day

It's a long way from Kansas City to Johannesburg, South Africa!
It would take about 17 hours flying time from Kansas City International Airport and cost about $1,675 for a round trip ticket. I have no plans, or desire, to make such a long, expensive trip.
But two of the greatest men of my lifetime have lived and worked in and around Johannesburg, which is about the same size as Kansas City. Those two men are Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu.
Since most of us don’t have any contact with, and maybe not much knowledge of, South Africa, we tend not to be as interested in it as, say, European or even Asian countries.
But most of us have heard quite a lot about Mandela, who died this past December at the age of 95. And maybe some of you have seen the splendid biographical film "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom," which was issued about the time of his death.
The most incredible thing about Mandela is that after being in prison for 27 years, he was elected as the first black president of the Republic of South Africa, which was established in 1961. That election took place twenty years ago this coming Sunday, on April 27, 1994.
That was the first democratic and non-racial national election to be held in the country, and everyone 18 and over of any race (even non-citizens) was allowed to vote. The African National Congress (ANC) was voted into power.
Even though there were three candidates, Mandela was elected president with nearly 63 percent of the votes. He assumed office on May 10 and served the five year term that ended in June 1999, about a month before his 81st birthday.
Since 1994, the 27th of April has been celebrated every year in South Africa as Freedom Day, a public holiday. On Sunday there will be big 20th anniversary celebrations in Johannesburg, Pretoria, and all across the country of South Africa.
Even though the vast majority of the people were of course black, for a very long time South Africa was ruled by minority whites who lived there.
In 1912, the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) was formed with the purpose of increasing the rights of the black population. That organization became the ANC in 1923, and in 1961 it formed a military wing.
Mandela joined the ANC in the early 1940s and began the ANC Youth League in 1944. In 1961 he became involved with the military wing. So, yes, Mandala was involved in violent resistance against the oppressive government. (I seem to remember, though, that in the 1770s, colonialists in what is now the U.S. also used violence against England.)
I seem to remember, though, that in the 1770s, colonists in what is now the U.S. also used violence against England. - See more at:
I seem to remember, though, that in the 1770s, colonists in what is now the U.S. also used violence against England. - See more at:
Mandala was arrested in August 1962, tried and sentenced to prison, where he remained until he was finally released in February 1990, after 27½ years.
Remarkably, though, rather than harboring bitterness and seeking revenge, Mandela took a forgiving and conciliatory approach toward the white government. In the book I will introduce next week, Desmond Tutu writes that Mandela’s long years in prison transformed him “from an angry, unforgiving young radical into an icon of reconciliation, forgiveness, and honor.”
Fittingly, Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.
Please join me in commemorating the outstanding life and achievements of Nelson Mandela and in wishing the people of South Africa well on their 20th Freedom Day.


  1. 2 generally good men who, like most of us, bring a mixed bag that can be divisive. As with most leaders of good change, it is their followers who I worry about - they can be vicious loose cannons.

  2. For those looking for a different way into this topic, PBS aired a fascinating documentary, Paul Simon’s Graceland Journey: Under African Skies, about his 2011 25th anniversary reunion with the musicians who created Graceland with him, and about the ironic history of how this fit in (and did not fit in) with the independence movement in South Africa, which culminated with the Graceland tour group performing at the inauguration of Mandala. It all started when Simon heard a cassette tape of South African music. He and his South African musicians got caught up in the boycott of South Africa, which caused great controversy as they toured the world. it was a classic example of how the best can indeed be the enemy of the good. Fortunately, both the best and the good succeeded in the end.

    An interesting side note was that the title "Graceland" came as a surprise to Simon. He put it in an early version of the lyrics, and assumed he would find a more appropriate term later as he worked on the song. Well, the word would not go away, so Simon got in a car and drove to Memphis to find out what was going on. That trip provided more lyrics, but even visiting Presley's home did not change the place of Graceland in the song. So there it stayed. My one quibble with it all was that Simon never addressed the obvious fact that he was playing a role in bringing South African music to the rest of the world, much like Presley had once done in bringing black music to the rest of America. Before he died, Presley even managed a hit titled "In the Ghetto" that directly addressed American race issues, something with which even the Supreme Court is currently having difficulty.

    See a review of the movie at this link:’s-graceland-journey/about-the-film/1479/

    See Presley's song at this link:

    1. Craig, good to hear from you again. Thanks for telling me (and the readers of this blog) about "Paul Simon's Graceland Journey," which I knew nothing about.

      Thanks, too, for writing about Elvis Presley and "In the Ghetto." Maybe it was because I was in Japan in 1969, but I don't ever remember hearing that song. I have just now listened to it--and was quite impressed.

  3. The first comment received today was from Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson, who wrote,

    "I'm with you on that, Leroy. April 27 is a great moment in world history, as well as South African."

  4. From the 4/24 Washington Post:

    "Twenty years since apartheid: How does the new generation see South Africa?" By Nick Kirkpatrick

    "'We should pat ourselves on our backs when you think where we have come from,' Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu said Wednesday at a news conference in Cape Town’s St. George’s cathedral.

    "Sunday marks 20 years since the end of apartheid in South Africa. But close to 20 million people, which is some 40 percent of the country’s population, has no personal memory of South Africa’s turbulent history.

    "They are referred to as 'Born Frees.'

    "On May 7, South Africa goes to the polls. 'Born Frees' will have the opportunity to vote for the first time."