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Be inspired to help broken souls

Dear Sir,

On December 5, the first anniversary of the death of Nelson Mandela was commemorated locally and abroad.

I wish to draw attention to the birth of what I will call Mandela's defining moment of transformation: the launch of the military “Spear of the Nation”, of which he was the first commander in chief.

Mark the date: December 16, 1961, when an oppressed, indigenous people demonstrated that they would no longer meekly turn the other cheek. Sixteen years before, in 1945, the United Nations — by way of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — had recognised the right of people to such military offensives. The third paragraph of the preamble of that Declaration states: “Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law.”

The thrust of Mandela's lance, at this point, was his fearlessness in challenging a system of legal oppression. He realised, with what I would call “laser-precise logic”, that it was useless to attempt to practice law (he was a lawyer) in a system of legalised oppression. He abandoned his career as a lawyer to fight a corrupt system as, what he termed himself to be, “an outlaw”.

For me, it is not his popular “I am prepared to die” speech, made in 1964, that needs to be tirelessly promoted. It is the words from his lesser-known speech nearly two years before, in a 1962 court hearing, of which we must take a renewed, full and active note.

“The law as it is applied, the law as it has been developed over a long period of history, and especially the law as it is written and designed by the Nationalist government, is a law which, in our view, is immoral, unjust and intolerable. Our consciences dictate that we must protest against it, that we must oppose it and that we must attempt to alter it.”

He further addressed the South African judge: “Perhaps the court will say that despite our human right to protest, to object, to make ourselves heard, we should stay within the letter of the law. I would say, sir, that it is the government, its administration of the law, which brings the law into such contempt and disrepute that one is no longer concerned in this country to stay within the letter of the law.”

This was the Mandela that the government caged like an animal for 27 years and robbed of his right to live and let live, without tyranny, in the country of his ancestors.

In his book, Young Man with a Red Tie: A Memoir of Mandela and the Failed Revolution 1960-1963, Bob Hepple, Mandela's legal advisor during the 1962 hearing mentioned above (yes, he was white) states: “There is a sculpture of Nelson Mandela in Parliament Square, London, unveiled in 2007, that portrays a kindly old man bending slightly forward with open welcoming arms, a furrowed brow, narrowing eyes and a mouth opening as if to speak words of comfort. That is not the 34-year-old Mandela I first saw in 1953. The sculpture represents the icon, an almost mythological character. It is the image of the man the world wants him to be — the great redeemer who emerged from 27 years of imprisonment filled with forgiveness and the spirit of reconciliation.”

The Mandela of 1962, appearing in court in full tribal dress, could connect the dots between laws passed over a hundred years before to the socially engineered discrimination, mis-education and wealth inequity experienced by those who died in poverty yesterday, and those continuing to live and die in poverty today. He pledged to protest, oppose and alter such laws.

My paternal great-grandfather was found dead on Reid Street in 1927. He was described in The Royal Gazette of the day as “a coloured Bermudian ... aged 56 years ... found lying in a natural position, with his head on a rolled up coat just inside the gate leading to the White Horse saloon on that street”. Family oral history tells a story of tragedy: a successful man with a house, land, wife and children who was “tricked” out of his property and ended up living and dying a broken man, on the sidewalk.

Fast forward to the celebrations of the America's Cup coming to Bermuda. A good thing, yes? Yet, as I navigated the crowded streets of Hamilton, pulsating with the festive air, Christmas lights, Gombey dancing, music and fireworks, I noticed in the dusky alcove of a well-known office building on Reid Street what appeared to be a coloured Bermudian man bedded down for the night on the cold, bare concrete. He had no rolled-up coat for a pillow. I was transported back to 1927 and saw my great-grandfather lying there, a broken soul, while hundreds of us bustled back and forth, eating, drinking and being merry.

What is this man's story? His tragedy? His loss? How can we celebrate hosting the America's Cup when our people are lying broken, in poverty, on the streets? Why are they invisible? What has not changed in nearly 100 years? What about the ones we don't see? How many broken souls?”

The spirit of Nelson Mandela calls on us to excise the laws and policies of any Government that would create and continue to promote, or turn a blind eye to, the conditions where inequity, poverty and “trickery” can flourish, and would then step over a people, whose souls and dignity have been crushed and broken, as if they were worth nothing.

Let us unite, not just in commemorating a great man's death, but in resurrecting his legacy to protest, oppose and alter “the law as it has been developed over a long period of history”.

LEYONI JUNOS

Challenging the system: Nelson Mandela appeared in court in the 1960s in Xhosa dress

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Published December 17, 2014 at 8:00 am (Updated December 17, 2014 at 12:45 am)

Be inspired to help broken souls

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