That diamond brought into the African light after its years buried deep in confinement says: Forgiveness. Nothing else.
Mandela forgave everyone. He even forgave all the white people who had treated Africans so cruelly for so long. Our zendo is mostly Caucasian. I wish it were more mixed in every demographic sense, and hope it will be, but for now we are as we are and we need to remember the institutions of cruelty our forebears created and endorsed.
Perhaps more than any single person of today, Nelson Mandela came to stand for all the wrongs perpetrated on Africans by the Caucasians for over four hundred years.
“I don’t want no peace,” sang Peter Tosh. “I want equal rights and justice.” Who could disagree with him?
“Vasco de Gama,” Tosh went on, “Christopher Combolus [sic], Francis Drake, I sentence you to be hanged by the tongue until you shall be dead…”
What else, after 400 years of institutionalized atrocity, brutality, treachery and cruelty against the disempowered and dispossessed? Rape, torture, murder… the list of the crimes will never be complete.
Mandela was the one in whom all the wrongs became focused, over the course of his 27 years in jail.
I once heard de Klerk speak. He was the South African president, a white Afrikaaner, a supporter and engineer of apartheid, who ended up releasing Mandela. He was small, dynamic, very bald, and very impressive.
He said: “I had to admit I had been wrong. I had passionately believed in apartheid, in the townships, in segregation. After several decades of our policies, I could no longer deny that we had been wrong.”
He described how he first had to admit his grave mistakenness to himself, then had to win over his political colleagues, then the country. Gradually his party came around. Some members never did, and he had to give up on them. It’s not easy to admit we have been wrong, especially when others are telling us we are wrong. But in 1990 de Klerk dismantled apartheid and enfranchised 80 to 90% of the population who had been living for so long without basic rights. He released Mandela and around the world people were overjoyed (as some of us will remember).
Bishop Desmond Tutu said, “Like a most precious diamond honed deep beneath the surface of the earth, the Madiba who emerged from prison in January 1990 was virtually flawless.”
That flawless jewel decided: no retribution. No punishment. There will be no revenge.
No revenge. But the human story is one of ceaseless revenge…. They wronged us so we wrong them. Back and forth, on and on…. time after time….
Not Madiba. That diamond brought into the African light after its years buried deep in confinement says: Forgiveness. Nothing else.
So the white peoples have been blessed by him, and forgiven. The sins of our fathers and grandfathers, and even the ongoing sins of its sons today, when skin tone still determines so much, after so many lifetimes of inequality – all forgiven.
Mandela did not live for “his” people, he lived for unity, for one people, for all people, for no separation between people. That was how he saw the world. That was the world he came to live in.
He is a kind of father to us all: father forgive us, help us to stop believing we know what we are doing, so that your forgiveness can reach us.
Message from Henry from our September 13, 2016 Newsletter
Image: The Nelson Mandela Orchid, by Stephen Au, CC by-ND 2.o, from Flickr.com