can be found in today's Washington Post in an op ed titled The roots of Mandela’s service. The author,
Temba Maqubela is headmaster at Groton School in Groton, Massachusetts. He fought against apartheid, escaped persecution, and, in 1986, came to the United States as a political refugee.More importantly, his grandfather actually taught Mandela in University, and his grandmother was one of the few visitors Mandela had in his first place of imprisonment, Pollsmore, before he was moved to Robben Island.
Here is the opening paragraph of the piece:
No one should have doubted that, in the end, Nelson Mandela would be buried in his village, not in a grand public setting in Johannesburg. For it was Qunu that made Mandela a leader.His village.- or as the Post email blurbed the piece, It took a village.
Let me offer two snips that focus on why this is important:
To really know Mandela, it helps to understand the concept of ubuntu. The Xhosa word is difficult to define, but it refers to the interconnectivity of one to another. In a Xhosa village like Mandela’s, when someone asks, “How are you?” the answer is not “I am fine.” It is, “We are fine.”
... the outpouring of grief that we are witnessing today shows that, when it came to Mandela, ubuntu applied to not only the village, or to the families he knew well, but to the city, the country, the world.Please keep reading.
This piece grabbed my attention because of this sense of collective celebration in the success of its young people succeeding in education - in a time of Apartheid when many villagers had little opportunity. Depending upon the level of completion, the communal celebration might be with mutton for middle or high school, beef for college.
Maqubela provides details that give context to understanding both Mandela's development and how he was viewed. The final paragraph reads as follows:
Nelson Mandela would not have led us as he did had he not grown up in his village. Throngs will head to Qunu, near Mthatha, to view Mandela’s burial spot. They will see him where they should, in the place where his ideas, his leadership, his values developed. That is where the seeds of leadership took root, where he came to understand the common man, and ubuntu, the importance of each one to another. For Mandela, the battle was never about him. It was always about us.Here I reflect upon our loss of that sense of the importance of the common man in American culture, and that is not just a focus for one of our tow major political parties, given how much the Democratic party has become just as reliant upon the financial sector for financing as our opponents.
And yet, there are things from South Africa, as flawed as that society remains, that give me hope.
Let me explain.
When the elections that led to Mandela's presidency were held, we saw the incredible lines of people voting for the first time in their lives, standing on lines for hours upon hours.
Now think to our own nation, to the last election, with the deliberate attempt to try to disenfranchise a large group of voters in some states - and oh yes, just like in South Africa many of them had Black skins. And, like in South Africa, if anything that made them more determined to vote - and Obama still won Florida - and Pennsylvania - and Ohio.
I think back even further. I remember when, like in South Africa, many African-Americans in this country could not vote - after all, I lived through the civil rights era, including playing what minor part a teen-aged white Jewish middle class kid from the NY suburbs could, but of greater importance, it seemed a moral issue to me.
Ever since Marion Wright Edelman borrowed an African proverb, we ave seen it used out of the context in which it was intended. The idea of it takes a village is that we are all bound together, that the success of any member of our community should be celebrated because it is the success of all of us, and in theory because that empowers that member to give back to us all.
Mandela's greatness exists on many levels. He never lost his village roots, but he was also able to see the entire world as an extension of what he learned in that village, ubuntu. It is why he could criticize the actions of the American governments around the world while offering his full love to the American people. It is why he would insist upon including the rights of Palestinians as part of his assertion of rights for all.
Liberty is liberty for all, and to apply it selectively is not to truly support it.
I repeat from the piece In a Xhosa village like Mandela’s, when someone asks, “How are you?” the answer is not “I am fine.” It is, “We are fine.”
Perhaps this African perspective is something we can and should learn and apply here in the United States? Might we not be a healthier society were we to do so? And would not our public policy then be shaped not by debates over the 1% or the 47% but by the 100%, even if some of us are of different religions, colors, sexual orientations, or even legal status within the borders of this nation?