The Silence and The Strength
Dr. Walter Greason
Norristown Times Herald
11 December 2013
Nelson Mandela is a titan in world history. Many people compare him with Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill, and other figures of monumental national significance. However, Mandela is unique in that his imprisonment began just before the popularity of television and his freedom came at precisely the moment of global cable networks’ emergence. In that way, his imprisonment reflected an attempt to erase him from the textual record of history. His liberation marked the explosion of visual meanings that continue to expand today.
Villanova University’s Student Government Association was committed to Mandela’s freedom through the worldwide divestiture campaign between 1987 and 1991. It was a symbolic pressure within a conservative institution to represent the rejection of explicit policies of exclusion and degradation like apartheid. Across the United States, student activists challenged South Africa while overlooking the maintenance of racial inequality within their own institutions.
For this reason, 1994 arguably marked a major transition in the modern, western commitment to the most extreme forms of abuse against the African diaspora. Mandela represented more than hope, more than reconciliation. His freedom and subsequent election symbolized the possibility of equal justice throughout the industrialized world in the twenty-first century. Beyond his particular human limitations and political compromises, he is the secular saint of inclusive, liberal democracy.
Otty Nxumalo introduced hundreds of young Americans to the struggle against apartheid during his ex-patriate days in the northeastern United States. He returned home to serve as the Director General of Kwazulu-Natal from 1994 to 2000 and is one of the major literary figures of the free South Africa. Nxumalo helped to make the African National Anthem (Nkosi Sigelel iAfrika) a battle cry for global pan-Africanism. It is a song that animates the revolutionary spirit around the world through universities like Villanova, Temple, Rutgers, Brown, Yale, and Harvard.
That spirit built a coalition of young professionals committed to diversity and unity in all human endeavors. It brought Maya Angelou, the Roots, Toni Morrison, Cornel West, and Desmond Tutu to Villanova after it ignored the continuing struggle for racial equality for a generation. It carried countless young people to the Million Man and Million Woman Marches and inspired the formation of the Black Radical Congress. Those young people are now leaders and decision makers in every facet of human civilization around the world.
Mandela lives in the work of attorneys like Sneha Desai and Jeffrey Campolongo. He breathes through the insightful performances of Marcia Dawkins and R-Son the Voice of Reason. His voice speaks to you through the words in this column. Mandela calls you to revitalize Norristown through vibrant economic connections to Mexico, the Caribbean, and the nations of Africa. His legacy requires that humanity abandon petty squabbles about debt and development in favor of the work of education and reconciliation. Nelson Mandela’s legacy must be the resurrection of an indigenous, autonomous, African economy by the end of the twenty-first century.
Civilization can no longer abide the silence on this crisis. Humanity finally has the strength to rebuild what it destroyed.
Dr. Walter Greason is the Executive Director of the International Center for Metropolitan Growth and the author of Suburban Erasure: How the Suburbs Ended the Civil Rights Movement in New Jersey. His work is available on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and by email (firstname.lastname@example.org).