Adonis Diaries

“Freed the Jailer as well?” Nelson Mandela

Posted on: December 15, 2013

Freed the Jailer as well?” Nelson Mandela

Tens of thousands gathered at the FNP Stadium in Soweto near Johannesburg today for a memorial to honor Nelson Mandela, who died last week at the age of 95.

Nearly 100 heads of state traveled to South Africa for the memorial, including President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro.

Mandela’s body will then lie in state for three days at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, where he was sworn in as president in 1994.

He will be buried on Sunday in Qunu, his ancestral home. We begin our coverage of the memorial with President Obama’s address. “It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailer as well,” Obama said. “While I will always fall short of Madiba’s example, he makes me want to be a better man.”

Interview of Amy Goodman with Barak Obama:

President Obama: Nelson Mandela “Freed Not Just the Prisoner, But the Jailer As Well”

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Mandela taught us the power of action, but he also taught us the power of ideas; the importance of reason and arguments; the need to study not only those who you agree with, but also those who you don’t agree with.

He understood that ideas cannot be contained by prison walls or extinguished by a sniper’s bullet.

He turned his trial into an indictment of apartheid, because of his eloquence and his passion, but also because of his training as an advocate.

He used decades of prison to sharpen his arguments, but also to spread his thirst for knowledge to others in the movement. And he learned the language and the customs of his oppressors, so that one day he might better convey to them how their own freedom depend upon his.

Mandela demonstrated that action and ideas are not enough.

No matter how right, they must also be chiseled into law and institutions. He was practical, testing his beliefs against the hard surface of circumstance and history.

On core principles he was unyielding, which is why he could rebuff offers of unconditional release, reminding the apartheid regime that prisoners cannot enter into contracts.

But as he showed in painstaking negotiations to transfer power and draft new laws, he was not afraid to compromise for the sake of a larger goal.

And because he was not only a leader of a movement but a skillful politician, the Constitution that emerged was worthy of this multiracial democracy, true to his vision of laws that protect minority as well as majority rights and the precious freedoms of every South African.

And finally, Mandela understood the ties that bind the human spirit.

There is a word in South Africa, ubuntu, a word that captures Mandela’s greatest gift—his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that are invisible to the eye, that there is a oneness to humanity, that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others and caring for those around us.

We can never know how much of this sense was innate in him or how much was shaped in a dark and solitary cell. But we remember the gestures, large and small—introducing his jailers as honored guests at his inauguration, taking a pitch in a springbok uniform, turning his family’s heartbreak into a call to confront HIV/AIDS—that revealed the depths of his empathy and his understanding. He not only embodied ubuntu, he taught millions to find that truth within themselves.

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