It is one of the few memories that I can still clearly remember from my early childhood. I was five and a half. My father, born in the west-African country of Nigeria, and like many other Africans, held the man in such high regard that when it was announced that Mandela would be visiting Canada just four months after his release from prison he insisted that we go to the airport to witness his arrival.
I was extremely excited. I had never met a celebrity before. Though I could not possibly even begin the appreciate the gravity of Mandela's accomplishments (even at that time when he was still not yet elected president of South Africa), as my mind was only capable of processing the intense story lines of Inspector Gadget and nothing more, I could sense the importance of the event to my father.
Much to my initial disappointment, I realized I would not actually be meeting anybody. My family and I stood in a throng of people waving Canadian flags and cheering in such a way that I, at that point, had only seen done for wrestlers.
I am glad my father insisted that we went to the airport that day. Many years later, after I properly educated myself on the importance of this man and his struggles, I actually felt privileged. Some people, South Africans even, never got to see Mandela as a free man.
So the news came last night, which is extremely disappointing but not really surprising. Like the years spent on Robben Island, Mandela spent the last few years fighting, but this time in and out of illness. And finally, at the age of 95, Nelson Mandela succumbed to a life full of battles, thankfully in a peaceful and reportedly painless way.
But as the tributes continue to pour in, I wonder whether Mandela would want us to spend our time mourning him rather than working our differences towards a common goal. Mandela, known for his ability to unite quite diametrically opposed parties, leaves the planet at time where partisan behaviour seems to be only getting worse.
Mandela spent 27, of his 95, years in prison for inciting labour strikes, leaving the country without permission and attempting to violently overthrow the racially charged apartheid South African government. Just think, Mandela's freedom was taken away because he challenged an oppressive government's morally inept policies; the tea party is fuming because Obamacare makes them subscribe to healthcare.
And after the 27 years spent in prison, how did this man react? By peacefully negotiating to end the apartheid; by sitting down with the same people who oppressed him and his people for so long, and attempted to work out a symbiotic solution.
So why is it that our modern-day political parties are so incapable of working together? It boggles my mind, especially given the track record for this world leader who we are now paying our respects to. Almost every single issue which reaches our House of Commons is intensely debated, often times childishly, and there is hardly ever any meaningful compromise. If the ANC and the apartheid South African government can negotiate an end to apartheid, then surely there is no issue that can come before any Canadian government that is incapable of reaching a consensus.
I am hopeful that all politicians, in Canada and around the world, when they voice how saddened they are that the world has lost such a great man, take a minute and think whether they truly are embodying Mandela's message. That, I believe, is the greatest tribute any politician can pay to the man that so many South Africans, Africans, and many people around the world owe so much to.
Nelson Mandela has certainly earned his chance to rest. As far as everyone else is concerned, we still have a long way to go.