Today is the birth anniversary of Nelson Mandela. This towering leader (in achievements, not physical stature) led his apartheid-torn country, South Africa, to freedom, equality and racial justice.
He was imprisoned on Robben Island for more than 27 years from the 60s through the 90s, when he was finally freed. He became the first black President of South Africa, and is known around the world for carrying the torch of freedom and justice.
After his release from an arduous prison tenure, he continued to spread the message of truth and recociliation instead of retaliation and retribution against the former white supremacist regime. A great admirer of Gandhi whose struggle against British colonialism started during his stint as a lawyer in South Africa, Mandela said, “India is Gandhi’s country of birth; South Africa his country of adoption. He was both an Indian and a South African citizen. Both countries contributed to his intellectual and moral genius, and he shaped the liberatory movements in both colonial theaters.”
It is interesting to see how he coped with prison life. A key part of his daily regimen was exercise. He was an avid boxer before imprisonment and continued his gym exercises even when all he had was the little space around him in a cell. That is motivation! This is what he said about exercise, “Exercise dissipates tension, and tension is the enemy of serenity. I found that I worked better and thought more clearly when I was in good physical condition, and so training became one of the inflexible disciplines of my life.”
And there was that resilience – he always believed in walking out of that cell, “ I always knew that someday I would once again feel the grass under my feet and walk in the sunshine as a free man.”
He had written to his then wife, Winnie Mandela in 1975, “Difficulties break some men but make others. No axe is sharp enough to cut the soul of a sinner who keeps on trying, one armed with the hope that he will rise even in the end.”
Even after freedom was achieved, he did not rest on his laurels. He knew that it was an ongoing journey. In his book, “Long Walk To Freedom”, he said, “But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.”