Written by – Virginia Bisconti e Pilar Pedrinelli
Translation by – Julia Perry
“It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”
Nelson R. Mandela
Who knows if fate exists, and if someone already knows who we are and especially where we are headed. These are inquiries that sooner or later spread through both the right and left hemispheres of our brain, uniting both creative and rational thinking, inquiries that break down the barrier between numerals and virtuosity. Everyone has his or her own answers to these questions, but the man that gave name to what would become a reference point for generations, surely smiled when he got his answers. Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, literally: he who causes trouble. And so he was, for nine ongoing decades, always stirring up trouble, but always in the name of a good cause.
At just 22 years of age, Mandela officially began to conform to his name, when confronted between the choice of an an asphalted road and a future decided by his tribe, he took the road less traveled and instead chose the freedom of choice and a path that led him to Johannesburg.
Here is where he began to stand out. The 1960s, in South Africa, were the years in which the government was predominantly made up of white members, where racial segregation was still practiced, and where someone was considered foreign in their homeland because of their race, where the word apartheid sounded in every ear and was marked by every mouth. And while the rest of the world yawned oxymoronically amazed, watching Gagarin floating around in space, the construction of yet another barrier began, the Berlin Wall, and sure enough, old Uncle Sam gathered his grandchildren and hurled them towards Vietnam; Mandela, in 1961, took courage in both hands and dedicated himself to armed fighting, he was preparing to give a voice to the South African blacks which made up the majority of the population, vindicating their political and social rights. Fighting in the name of freedom.
The price of freedom quickly became the opposite of its definition. It was 1962 when he was sentenced to life in prison, the heaviest of penalties. To condemn a man like Mandela, depriving him of the same impetus that has been the keystone of his life, isn’t only denying him of his freedom, but above all it means locking up the voice of South Africa in a jail cell. But even when he was awarded “Freedom”, Mandela refused. It was a controlled freedom, parole. That cell would have been unlocked if and only if he renounced to armed fighting. It was February 1985 and the future President of South Africa had already spent 23 years in cell 46664, on Robben Island. He still had another four years ahead of him, before his release.
That cell is and will always remain a symbol of a silent struggle between the mass movement and the hammer of the armed struggle, pounding against it. Through the window of cell 46664, a few days ago, the world was also observed from the eyes of President Barack Obama. Although the window has remained the same, the shape of South Africa and its landscape have changed. Now there’s an outdoor museum where the maximum-security prison on Robben Island, near Cape Town, used to stand: one of the many scars on the face of South Africa. The testimony of tough sacrifices and deprivations that Mandela has always taken on, endured in the name of what he said would have been a better world. A world that could and should be expressed in all colors.
A feeling of freedom, consequently, closely correlated to willpower. A highly risky combination, up to this day, that someone, however, still has the courage and the will to take on; like the Democratic Senator from Texas, Wendy Davis. In a society that rarely stops to take a breath, the Senator seems to have found a way to capture the audience’s attention for 11 full hours, with a tight grip and hold on her testimony. Davis breaks any paradigm, remaining motionless on her podium, through her filibuster preventing the passing of a bill that would have made the option of abortion impossible by closing a large part of institutions that offer the service.
And now? As always, and to this day, that same enthusiasm that inspired Mandela knocks at our doors. There are no cells, or at least none that are visible. There are no numbers on heavy doors nor are there any barred windows from which to peek at the sky, to sigh and be wishful from. And could it be true that everything we want is actually within arm’s reach? Our free will almost seems a if it’s taken for granted. We’re in no need of permission; we define ourselves and our limits and possibilities. But is it really so granted, really so obvious, our so-called freedom? Romano wrote: “Beautiful, more beautiful in the dream. How much I loved you, freedom, when you weren’t here.” Does one really have to be on the edge of suffocation before realizing how precious a single breath can be? It almost seems as if we have forgotten how to question ourselves, as if we’ve been desensitized. If we were to be stripped of our freedom, how many of us would actually be willing to live 27 years in a jail cell? Mandela is without a doubt an extraordinary persona, animated by an instinctive need inherent in the spirit of every human being: he fought for his personal freedom, a freedom that failed to coincide with the concept of freedom of his country.
Now Mandela is still putting up a fight, but this time, through his own darkness, at the Mediclinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria. About 1500 km south, a few years earlier, with an eye turned to hope, the future Nobel peace prizewinner found the strength to continue fighting in the words of William Ernest Henley and his poem Invictus.
“Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.”
In the hopes that he gains again the force needed to really be again like Invictus, unbeaten until the end and able to fulfill his 95th year of age.
And it’s sure that even the agave plants, on the hill of Qunu, will be happy to wait a little longer.