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Nelson Mandela IS the Definition of Reconciliation and Forgiveness
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By Rick Vandekieft

There is more known about Nelson Mandela around the world than any other person to live in the 20th and 21st century. This is especially true for Canadians and we were blessed to have hosted Mr. Mandela three times during his time as South Africa's President. Mr. Mandela did feel a close connection to Canada.

According to Carleton University political science professor Linda Freeman, who has written extensively on Canada's relationship with South Africa, Canada’s support of Nelson Mandela and opposition to apartheid was not always the case. For example, Prime Minister Trudeau actually defended trade and investment with the apartheid regime and stated that the idea of economic sanctions were "unrealistic," and expressed “irritation” with those who advocated them.

In 1984 that all changed with the election victory of Brian Mulroney. Canadian and South African historians agree that Prime Minister Mulroney not only did more for South Africa than any other Canadian prime minister but also more than any other world leader! It was Mulroney's campaign to ratchet up the diplomatic and economic pressure on the apartheid regime. This included a few very public battles with Margaret Thatcher on the issue.

Stephen Lewis, Mulroney's choice in 1984 to be ambassador to the United Nations said recently: "Mulroney did not waver in his support towards Mr. Mandela. Because I've had contact with Mandela since then, I know that he felt that Canada's role in his release, and in overcoming apartheid, was singular, very important."

Yes, we do know a great deal about this fascinating man, Nelson Mandela, but we found some interesting, not well known facts to share with you.
  • Mandela's birth name - Rolihlahla - is an isiXhosa name that means "pulling the branch of the tree". Colloquially it also means "troublemaker". His English name, Nelson, was given to him by a missionary schoolteacher.
  • He fled the Eastern Cape for Johannesburg after the leader of the Tembu people, tried to set up an arranged marriage for him. After arriving in the city, he found work as a night watchman at a mine.
  • Mandela's first wife Evelyn Mase was a nurse and was the breadwinner in the family supporting Mandela while he studied law at Wits University. They had four children together and divorced in 1958.
  • In 1962, he left the country to garner support for the armed struggle. During this time he received guerilla training in Morocco and Ethiopia.
  • The circumstances surrounding his arrest at a police roadblock outside of Howick later that year remain unclear but it is believed that an American CIA agent tipped off the police about his whereabouts. He was convicted of sabotage and attempting to violently overthrow the government.
  • During his time in prison, he was consigned to hard labour in a lime quarry for much of that time and was, at first, only allowed one visitor and one letter every six months.
  • The apartheid government offered to release Mandela on no less than six occasions but he rejected them each time. On one such occasion Mandela released a statement saying: "I cherish my own freedom dearly, but I care even more for your freedom ... What freedom am I being offered while the organization of the people [the ANC] remains banned?"
  • Mandela wrote a memoir during the 70s, copies of which were wrapped in plastic containers and buried in a vegetable garden which he kept at prison. It was hoped that fellow prisoner Mac Maharaj, who was due for release, would be able to smuggle it out. But the containers were discovered when prison authorities began building a wall through the garden. As punishment, Mandela's study privileges were revoked.
  • After he was separated from his second wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, he asked Amina Cachalia, with whom he had a long relationship, to marry him but she turned him down. On his 80th birthday, Mandela married Graça Machel, the widow of Mozambique's former president Samora Machel.
  • The ANC was labelled a terrorist organization by the apartheid government and was recognized as such by countries including the US and Britain. It was only in 2008 that the United States finally removed Mandela and other ANC members from its terror list.
  • The United Nations declared his birthday, July 18, Nelson Mandela International Day. This was the first time the UN dedicated a particular day to a person.
  • Hundreds of awards and honours have been bestowed on Mandela. Among others, he is an honorary citizen of Canada, an honorary member of the British Labour Party, and an honorary member of Manchester United. He also had a nuclear particle (the 'Mandela particle'), a prehistoric woodpecker (Australopicus nelsonmandelai) and an orchid (Paravanda Nelson Mandela) named after him.
  • He had a cameo in a Spike Lee film: He had a big part in Spike Lee's 1992 biopic "Malcolm X." At the very end of the movie, he plays a teacher reciting Malcolm X's famous speech to a room full of Soweto school kids. But the pacifist Mandela wouldn't say "by any means necessary." So Lee cut back to footage of Malcolm X to close out the film.
  • His favorite dish is probably not yours: He's been wined and dined by world leaders. But what Mandela loved eating most was tripe, the stomach lining of farm animals

Have you seen the movie; Invictus?

Released in 2009 starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon is the story is based on the John Carlin book Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation about the events in South Africa before and during the 1995 Rugby World Cup, which was hosted in that country following the dismantling of apartheid. The title Invictus may be translated from the Latin as "undefeated" or "unconquered".

This is a heartwarming movie about the struggles in South Africa in the '90s and Mandela's successful efforts to bring the country together.