by Frank Schnittger
Fri Dec 6th, 2013 at 02:09:57 AM EST
I first became aware of Nelson Mandela in a personal way, when, as a 17 year old undergraduate student, I came in contact with South Africans who had been banned by the Apartheid regime for their political activities and who were now campaigning for an end to Apartheid throughout Europe.
Basil Moore, author of an anthology of Black Theology which included a contribution from Steve Biko had been banned for campaigning against Apartheid in his role as General Secretary of the South African University Christian Movement. He lived under house arrest, his neighbours hung and strung up the the family pet from a lamp post outside their home, and he eventually escaped by sneaking across the border into Zimbabwe. Eva Strauss was banned for marrying a black man (and also perhaps for her outspoken political and feminist views). Colin Winter, Bishop-in-exile of Namibia had been deported for his opposition to Apartheid in Namibia and support for striking migrant workers.
All spoke with a moving personal touch. Politics was no longer some remote political struggle thousands of miles away. It wasn't just a cerebral and ideological battle: It was about how you lived your own life; it was also about the struggle against racism here at home. It was about the structures of international capitalism which made Apartheid possible, and which could also be part of its downfall.
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Later I changed courses and studied International Law under Kader Asmal, then President of the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement, and who later became Minister for Water, and then Minister for Education in successive post Apartheid Governments.
Much later again I wrote my Masters thesis on Apartheid, predicting the imminent demise of Apartheid just before De Klerk came to power and eventually released Mandela. I found it hard not to cry as he walked his way out of prison, I had invested so much emotional energy in his struggle.
The late 1980's was a time when anything seemed possible. Mandela was beginning to end Apartheid, and Gorbachev was dismantling the Soviet Union. Two giants of this and any age.
When Mandela visited Dublin to be made a Freeman of the City, my kids waved ANC flags in his honour. We had to show our support. Only after the end of Apartheid did I feel it right to visit South Africa itself, where I have since been fortunate to make many friends. In their lives I have seen the changes that the end of apartheid has made, and how much Mandela contributed to that process.
May he rest in peace. Sometimes people do not know the good they do in and for others. We never met, but his struggle helped to change my life.