I was born in South Africa in 1948, the same year that the country’s National Party came to power. By 1954, when my family left South Africa for Canada, the apartheid system was already beginning its long and savage history. In 1962, Nelson Mandela was arrested, convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the government, and sentenced to life imprisonment. He was finally released on February 2, 1990.
When I was in high school and university, South Africa was a pariah state in the world’s eyes. That was also a time when the civil rights and Black Power movements in the U.S. were having a profound effect on me. I was ashamed of where I’d been born.
When Mandela came out of captivity in 1990 to lead his country to freedom, I was, for the first time in my life, proud to have been born in South Africa. I owe him a great deal. Not as much, to be sure, as the millions of South Africans who lived and died under tyranny, but something precious and strong.
(The poster at the top of this post was created for the Liberation Support Movement, which was founded in Vancouver, British Columbia, and had branches in California and New York. It appeared in 1981, as part of a widespread North American campaign for Mandela’s release from prison.)