Nelson Mandela

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December 16, 2013

Yesterday, our community celebrated the life of Nelson Mandela.

Organized by Chloe Callender and Lauris DaCosta, with the assistance of Councillor Berry Vrbanovic, the afternoon was moving. The Hon. Rev. Walter McLean related his own stories from the front lines of our country’s fight against apartheid in South Africa, Peter Braid discussed his personal experiences as part of Canada’s delegation in South Africa last week, and we were treated to fantastic musical and dance performances by our local youth.

On behalf of the Mayor, I brought the following greetings on behalf of Waterloo and my own personal reflections on the loss of Nelson Mandela:

We have had in this last week the opportunity to celebrate the life and accomplishments of Nelson Mandela. I am honoured to join in that today on behalf of the Mayor and Council of the City of Waterloo.

There are many lessons we can all learn from Madeba, and we have heard many of them already this afternoon.

I want to spend my brief time focusing on the one that resonates most with me.

In a country long divided by apartheid, we have heard how Mandela held off civil war to take the path of truth and reconciliation. After 27 years in prison, I believe one of the most difficult things for all of us to imagine is how in freedom any person could bury resentment in favour of forgiveness.

Madeba said of resentment that it “is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”

In the injustices all of us see everyday in our community and in our world, whether large or small, it is often easier to be resentful.

Mandela’s advice on this was clear: “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”

The greatness the world has honoured this week comes from this basic truth. In a world of “us” and “them”, both are needed for peace.

The lesson that stays with me is exactly that simple and that hard. We must use our freedom to seek truth and reconciliation, to bridge the lack of understanding between “us” and “them.”

After 27 years on Robben Island and other prisons, Mandela 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.”

That was the enlightened life he led, and it is an example we should all challenge us to live in our own lives, no matter the size of the injustices we see.

May he rest in peace.