Rest in Eternal Peace Tata Madiba
With Mandela’s Statue, Cape Town WaterfrontRegardless of what he practiced, Nelson Mandela was a true yogi; he embodied the principles of love, humanity, non-violence and courage in a way that continues to humble us all.
Life brought me to South Africa three times in 2013, and I came to know a bit of Madiba’s legacy firsthand. In February, during one of the most poignant moments of the trip and of my year, I made a visit to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent more than 17 of the 27 years he was imprisoned.
Nelson Mandela was one of the many figures who inspired me during my adolescent years. I was a high school student at Choate Rosemary Hall when Mandela became the first president of the newly democratic South Africa. Choate is where John F. Kennedy went to high school and engrained in all of the students who go through the school is a sense of social responsibility. They encouraged all of us to positively affect change in the world, as Kennedy did, as Mandela did, and they invited people like Desmond Tutu to come speak to us and motivate us. So I already had a sense of who the man, incarcerated on Robben Island for so many years, was.
The lime quarry on Robben Island was where Mandela and his fellow prisoners worked moving limestone. Day in and day out, in the blinding sunshine, without protection for eyes or skin, they worked relentlessly. I cried when I saw the cave in the lime quarry that they not only used as a bathroom but also as a school. Because the room was their toilet, it was the one place the white guards could/would not go because of apartheid laws. So Mandela and the other prisoners used it as the place they clandestinely taught each other. They had a saying, “each one teach one.” Somehow in the great darkness Mandela found a way to instill inextinguishable light.
Limestone QuarryNelson Mandela deeply understood that by condoning the violation of any being’s rights, we also deny our own freedom. As he said, “to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
No words can express my disheartened shock when I witnessed the tiny cell where Mandela lived, when I realized how much he gave up for the freedom of men and women around the world. What only a very few would or could give up for their closest family and friends he gave up for people he never met. He deeply understood that by condoning the violation of any being’s rights, we also deny our own freedom.
Despite all that he went through he never doubted the goodness in humanity. This is a well-known quote from his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom:
No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.
The time has come for Mandela’s soul to move on. We are charged with the responsibility to carry on his work, to live up to the faith he exhibited for all of us.
In a tribute to Mandela, President Obama said:
We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. So it falls to us as best we can to forward the example that he set: to make decisions guided not by hate, but by love; to never discount the difference that one person can make; to strive for a future that is worthy of his sacrifice.
As Mandela himself put it in 1996:
Death is something inevitable. When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort and that is, therefore, why I will sleep for the eternity.
Tata Madiba, may you rest in the eternal peace that you embodied here on this earth. May each of us hold even a fraction of the strength and light that you held in your heart. May we aspire to be the yogi you were. And may you live on in the virtues of others.
View of Cape Town from Robben Island