My husband, Alberto Garcia, and I have been writing our book of social justice heroes, Rabble Rousers, for the past year. It will be published in a few months. But one chapter is of the life of Nelson Mandela. In celebration of his life, it is printed here.
South Africa (1918 – 2013)
“I detest racism because it is a barbaric thing, whether it comes from a black man or a white man.”
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela’s father and grandfather and great great-grandfathers were tribal leaders within the Thembu dynasty of South Africa. Nelson should have been a tribal leader, too. But because of what happened 266 years before he was born, he would not be a tribal leader. He would be something else. Something far greater than any of his great-grandfathers could have possibly dreamed of.
Two hundred and sixty-six years before Nelson was born, Dutch businessmen, hoping for a good profit from ships sailing around Africa, started a small refreshment station at the tip of South Africa and named it the Cape of Good Hope. In the years between that refreshment station and Nelson’s birth, wars were fought, diamonds were discovered, more wars were fought, oil was found, and through it all, white Europeans killed each over which white Europeans would control the wealth of South Africa. The only thing they seemed to agree on was that the native black people must certainly not be in control, and since there were many, many more black people than white people, they must be kept in virtual slavery. And so 266 years of history were against Nelson Mandela’s becoming a leader of any sort.
Nelson was a good student, and his father wanted him to prepare to take his place someday as a councilor to the head of the family tribe. After his father’s death, this tribal chief became like a father to Nelson. He educated him in the best schools that accepted black students. At Fort Hare University Nelson became involved in student councils. He began his career as a troublemaker before he even left school. He was asked to the leave school after organizing a boycott against the university.