Last summer, the illness of Nelson Mandela prompted me to write a quick note of sympathy o a business contact I have in South Africa. Because I do not know her well and had limited appreciation of the extent to which Mandela and his legacy are beloved by the South African people, I kept my note rather brief.
Her response moved and stunned me. She thanked me effusively for my sentiments. She referred to Mandela as “Tata Mandiba,” which sent me to Google and taught me more about the enduring love the South African people have for the leader of their liberation movement and their first black President.
This weekend, the coverage of Mandela’s passing gave me – and I’m sure others internationally – a much deeper sense of Mandela’s struggle and his greatness. I remember participating in anti-apartheid protests, urging our college administration to divest its holdings in South Africa . . . but in doing so, I never understood or appreciated the extent of the South African struggle for freedom.
I did remember to send my contact another note over the weekend. She responded, in part: “Your kind words have reminded me that the world we live in is indeed a great one. That change was possible not just because of our struggles but because of our international family.”
I sat quietly for a few minutes soaking in her message, and feeling that I had made a friend across the ocean.