When Mandela was still in prison I used to sing South African battle songs with gusto in the 1 May choir. Their rhythms and four-part harmonies move your soul. I still get a lump in my throat when I hear Nkosi Sikelel’i Afrika, or sing along with the bases.
It is incomprehensible that governments, churches and scientists supported apartheid for so long. I can even remember an article in Trouw newspaper which described how someone got a doctorate in the 19th century for defending racial segregation. And in the church there were theologians who claimed that all Africans were the descendants of Ham, the black and cursed son of Noah. Racial discrimination is a distortion of humanity and that is what we were fighting: I sang with ever more conviction.
And now Mandela will be buried. After Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, the third hero in my life. They inspired me to refuse to go into military service. Over the last few days I have been leafing through my books about Mandela again, readings various bits.
One fact jumped out at me now: Mandela had a little garden on Robben Island. On a plot of 10 by 1 metres he grew toma-toes, onions, bell peppers and spinach. Not just for himself but for his fellow prisoners, so that their maize porridge could be supplemented with fresh vegetables. Later, even for the guards and their families on Robben Island.
During his years of imprisonment, his garden was a place of beauty and orderliness, a place of peace and regeneration. The garden was a refuge from the turmoil and storms of the world. From there he could fulfill his main task in life: fighting for a free society based on equality. His key weapons in this were Reconciliation and Forgiveness. I never knew a garden was so important to him. I firmly resolve to bring new life into my own garden in 2014.