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Mandela

Some time ago during Mandela’s administration,  the IMF was staging a large, international event in Johannesburg, S. Africa.

Many countries were invited to take part and challenged to create a dinner which would best represent their nations most prized culinary examples. Each of the participating countries were responsible for hosting a grand gala dinner on their allotted evening, and being the host country, South Africa was representing  the final evening soiree. Providing the finale banquet on the heels of a lavish, Russian dinner featuring caviar, vodka and fine liquors the night before participants were greatly anticipating the next and final treat. Each country had been planning menus reflecting the pride of their nations  – and ultimately were proudly showcasing their place in the culinary world.

On this special night,  Mandela arranged a 3 course dinner;  served with silver-ware and delivered by proud, South African hosts.

As the first course arrived, the hostesses removed the silverware in unison to a modest portion of maze (grits) and bread, to which he announced….’This is the food that 30% of Africans will be eating tonight’….

There was a slight murmur through-out the crowd as the forks and spoons gingerly approached the faire.

About 15 minutes later, the next course arrived; which included a small portion of lentils, ox-trail and beef jous, – to which Mandela shared somewhat poetically….’This is the food that another 30% of Africans may be eating tonight’…

Delegates could be seen looking tentatively between tables, as they began to consume the next course….

About 20 minutes later,  the final course arrived, with the hostesses holding their platters with silver lids affixed, holding their positions with significant pause….

As the final course was placed before the delegates,  the servers removed the lids in unison to a now silenced audience…. the last course platter was bare.

There was no food to be seen.

Mandela’s eyes moved deliberately through-out the audience as he said, “And this, ladies and gentlemen, is what 40% of Africans will be eating tonight…’

I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Stories of Mandela.   They overflow everywhere.

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During my stay in this magical country….I have asked cabbies, business-people, servers, shark-cage divers;  anyone whom I come into contact with along my travels; please tell me your Mandela story.

In the interest of brevity, here is a summary of their reflections:

In life, there are a finite number of people who really set themselves apart, who profoundly inspire in ordinary ways, people.

These way makers, help make the rest of us realize just what human beings are capable of. They are prepared to be brave, they are ready to make sacrifices no matter what, and to me, these people seem to be a whole lot more wise than the rest of us.

Ordinary people leading with charisma and confidence. We rally and choose to follow, and they, in turn, inspire us to be better, try harder and to impact others, albeit in a smaller way, our way.

This was South Africa’s Mandela.

Many South Africans I spoke with who reflected upon Mandela’s death remarked that this was their ‘JFK moment’….they will forever remember where they were when they heard the news of his sombre passing.

Today, I had the surreal experience of standing in Mandela’s cell at Robbin’s Island.

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Our gracious guide, first entering President Mandela's Cell.

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It was no larger than a small storage, utility room; with a slight window with bars peering into the blank and dusty court-yard.

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Mandela spent over 17 years in this cell, scribing the ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ which he managed to smuggle out to the outside world.

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In Garden above, a place Nelson Mandela rallied to have the opportunity to create.. eventually became the hiding spot for his secretly written memoir. A Long Walk to Freedom.

Our guide, a former prison-mate to Mandela,  shared with us his personal testimony;  a story that was extremely hard to hear.

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His story was of human abuses under abysmal conditions, rivaling tales of those whom have survived the holocaust.

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This strong, well spoken, passionate man spoke of something else, his time on the Island with Nelson Mandela which provided a sense of comradery, passion for education & a healing opportunity for choice in fighting against apartheid.

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One thing to me was clear.  Mandela drew upon an inner Victor Frankl’esque strength and will to survive, forgive and endure;  fostering tenets of reconciliation and renewal which abound in the people I have met in this amazing country of South Africa.

words by |  ray matthews

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