My wife, Bonnie and I just returned from 10 days in South Africa which included our “Nelson Mandela Day” last Friday. That day we visited the amazing Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, stood in Nelson Mandela’s house (now museum) in Soweto, visited Desmond Tutu’s house on the same street, took in an African restaurant for lunch in Soweto and the toured some of the adjacent neighborhoods. We also drove by and took pictures of the guarded compound in Jo-burg where he was spending his last days.
That evening, we went to see the opening of the movie “Mandela” because we wanted to view it with a local South African audience. It’s a powerful piece based on his autobiography and at several points during the movie, the audience laughed at things that were said in the movie – things that frankly passed over our heads. The audience was of mixed race – white Afrikaners (who speak Afrikaans), black Africans, Indians and others. There were a few mixed race couples – something that would have been a criminal offense just a few years ago. The audience was predominately white, perhaps because the cinema was in an upscale urban shopping mall on the Nelson Mandela Square in Jo-burg. The movie was very well received and the audience applauded at the end.
I had begun reading Mandela’s autobiography on the flight over. Like many chapters in history, you read them and wonder in retrospect how much attention you paid to the major events at the time they were occurring. I remember protests in the mid-seventies on my university campus encouraging the university to divest itself of its endowment holdings in companies doing business in S. Africa. I’m sure I read a few articles in Time magazine or the newspapers about the events unfolding across South Africa, but I’m embarrassed that I wasn’t more aware of the intensely racist system of apartheid that existed.
Mandela was truly a giant of the 20th century. I feel fortunate that last week I caught a glimpse of his history and profound contributions to humanity while he was still alive.
David Adkisson is the CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce