Growing up in the 1980's the anti-apartheid cause caught my attention. It was in the news. There were great films about the oppression in South Africa. And The Cosby Show talked about it.
As I grew from childhood through adolescence into college-aged-adulthood, I learned more about it and refined my understanding.
I think for those near my age, it resonated powerfully. Our parents told stories about Civil Rights and anti-war movements. Those seemed like ancient history, since they occurred mostly before we were born. But this movement was during our lifetime, and for us, who wondered how America had ever had its Jim Crow past, there was a moral clarity.
Though I do remember all the complicated responses to Nelson Mandela and the ANC. I had forgotten how much of it there was, though reading and watching some videos today reminded me. But I did remember those who feared Mandela, feared the ANC coming to power. They were communists, didn't you know.
F. W. DeKlerk was a breath of fresh air after P. W. Botha (I got to see DeKlerk a few years ago when he came to speak at OU). And then there was all this reform beginning. It was part of those heady, optimistic years when the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union collapsed.
Mandela had been hardly more than an image. Bearded at that. An iconic image, seared in our brains. Time, I believe, did a cover on what an artists thought Mandela might look like, this not long before we did finally see him.
And then he was released, and looked nothing like the iconic bearded image. Here was an older, stately, distinguished looking man.
And suddenly there was this test. Could someone who was an icon who most of us knew almost nothing about live up to the image? Or would be be muddied by reality.
He did it. Unbelievably. He actually transcended the icon and became a new kind of icon and hero and the one person who I have felt for years now to be THE world leader.
He emerged from prison and became one of the great leaders in the history of the world.