Go gently into the night, gentle man


December 5, 2013 by talkaboutyork


I was 15 when I first heard the name Nelson Mandela. It was 1988. That is just two years before he was released from prison. Yet I had never heard of him. A friend at school asked our opinion about what we thought about the ‘terrorist’ Nelson Mandela being released from prison. And I didn’t have a clue who she was talking about. Because it was illegal for pictures of him to be published or his words to be quoted. It was apartheid South Africa. I was a teenage girl, blissfully living my privileged white life.

I quickly learned who he was and remember exactly where I was when he was released from prison. I watched it, sitting on the carpet of our sitting room in Springs on the East Rand, glued to the television knowing that this was something huge. Like watching Neil Armstrong land on the moon. I was moved to tears, without fully understanding why.

What I didn’t know then – what the world didn’t know then – was the depth of forgiveness a single man could house in one slight, yet highly patterned, frame.

I have read some articles that have criticised Nelson Mandela. After all, the country he took charge of is still in an almighty mess. Should he, could he, have done a better job sharing his beliefs and ideals with his underlings who would take over?

But there is only so much one man can do.  Not all men have the deep reserves of forgiveness, the visionary thinking, the kindness, dignity, gentleness and strength of character that he had. The world is poorer for it.

Just last night I watched Invictus with my children. I had to explain to them why Nelson Mandela wearing a springbok rugby shirt was so profound, what it felt like to be in South Africa the moment the country felt truly united regardless of colour because of the work he had done. I cried watching the film.

I cried again tonight.

The world has lost an amazing man. My hope for South Africa – and indeed the world – is that we can all find just a fraction of the same compassion, forgiveness and dignity that he radiated. If we can, the world will be a better place.


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.



4 thoughts on “Go gently into the night, gentle man

  1. A very moving tribute to a quite extraordinary man.

  2. Potty Mummy says:

    What a wonderful post.

  3. Very interesting to hear your take and your story. I haven’t seen Invictus, but really want to watch it now. I’m off to see a private screening of the new Mandela film tomorrow – will post about it.

  4. Lovely to read your thoughts, coming from a white South African perspective (I won’t say ‘Afrikaaner’ as you may not be one). I wrote something about him too. I”m not S African but been there and have enough love for the country and the man to have been v saddened by his death…http://wp.me/p2oDmP-tQ (Found this via Sonya’s piece on Britmums)

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