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The terrible, unspeakable and atrocious crimes committed against people of color during apartheid in South Africa are almost unforgivable. For instance, the black population was required to carry pass books with them whenever they ventured outside their homes or designated areas. Never mind the fact that black people were the majority population, any white person, even a child could ask a black African to produce his or her pass. Not carrying the pass around translated to being arrested for breaking the law.

Shameful isn’t it? The main pillars of apartheid were not abolished until the 1990’s and the trickling effects of that system are still felt to this very day. Reading about the mass murders, unlawful arrests, separation of families, exiles, burning of homes and countless tragic stories during the racist era is always a sobering moment. Talk about hell on earth, apartheid was pure evil.

It is impossible to discuss South Africa and apartheid without mentioning these two words: Nelson Mandela. For most people living outside Mzansi he is considered the face of the anti-apartheid movement. Let’s be clear – this no way, shape or form means that he single handedly abolished apartheid on his own. That’s too much for one person to bear. Even Mr Mandela will tell you he didn’t do it alone. Heroes such as Chris Hani, Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, Steve Biko and many others played equally important roles in helping to liberate black people.

Today we celebrate Nelson Mandela. You see, July 18th marks his 95th birthday and as the first black South African President, he holds a special place in my heart. I was born in Zimbabwe in the 80’s and even from a young age I was very much aware of what was happening in the neighboring country of South Africa.

But on this day, instead of celebrating his birthday in the comfort of his home with loved ones the former South African leader will most likely be in a Pretoria hospital where he’s been holed up since June 8. Fortunately, officials say his condition is critical but stable and one of his daughters even instilled a bit of hope by hinting that he may be going home soon as it appears his health seems to be improving.

But the truth is, we all know the end is near.

Even if you are healthy and strong at the ripe age of 95, death is imminent. In the words of Steve Jobs “..death is the destination we all share”. It is the one appointment that none of us came miss. Even faced with the realization that Madiba is at the sunset of his life, on this day I choose to commemorate & honor him by focusing on what his life means to me.

Almost 49 years ago on June 12th, 1964, Nelson Mandela was unfairly convicted by an apartheid court of sabotage, and thrown in jail for life.

At the time of sentencing he told the court:

“I do not deny that I planned sabotage. I did not plan it in a spirit of recklessness nor because I have any love of violence. I planned it as a result of a calm and sober assessment of the political situation that had arisen after many years of tyranny, exploitation and oppression of my people by the whites.”

His courage to stand up and fight for what is right is what resonates with me. In today’s society his words still ring true. When you hear about cases like Trayvon Martin it becomes clear that the issue of racism is still very much alive. None of us should be docile in the face of global injustice. So while we fight and protest it’s just as important to work towards a parallel path of justice and forgiveness. When an older Mandela filled with gray hairs emerged after 27 years of imprisonment without a trace of bitterness and full of love, he taught me an important lesson in moving forward. He is nowhere near a saint but on a human level his compassion for people outside of just his own family – speaks earth shattering volumes.

When I think of the back-breaking labor he endured for decades my heart aches. When I think of how his son Themba died while he was in prison and a devastated Madiba couldn’t even attend his funeral my spirit breaks. When I think of how his painful lung condition was possibly brought on by his prison stint, it almost consumes me in anger. But if I wallow in the spirit of defeat, I lose sight of what his legacy really means. South African songstress Simphiwe Dana put it best when she wrote on twitter last week “Madiba’s flowers dot the South African landscape. Madiba’s flowers, you and I”. I couldn’t have said it better myself. His legacy lives in all of us.

Viva Madiba viva!

Makho Ndlovu is a Zimbabwean born celebrity reporter and blogger based in New York City. You can follow her @MakhoNdlovu. To learn more about her, check out her personal blog Makho-Ndlovu.blogspot.com

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