My son was baptised in our living room on 11th February 1990 – the day Nelson Mandela was released from prison. At the same time, the Berlin Wall was falling and it felt like a world full of potential for our baby boy. My then husband did a brilliant speech about hope for the future – joining the millions of speeches around the globe as we settled down to witness the peaceful end of apartheid.
At 7am this morning I heard on the radio that Mandela, now aged 95, had been taken home from his long hospital stay, and I presumed he is now entering his passing time. Then at 9am I heard that the South Africa government are denying that earlier statement, and that Mandela remains in hospital. I suppose he’s close to death, and they can’t quite decide how to play it for the press machine. My prayer is that in his frailty, he is given peace and dignity – he who has shown the world what ‘dignity’ means.
Earlier this year I underwent a serious shock to my wellbeing, and my son quoted a poem in full to me – ‘Invictus’. I’d never heard it before and he was amazed that he knew a poem I didn’t. It was used as the title for a film about Mandela’s intervention in the 1995 rugby World Cup – how he used the hated ‘white man’s game’ to further the cause of peace and reconciliation. The poem beats a gentle rhythm as we see the drama unfold, with Morgan Freeman (who else?) in the starring role, and Matt Damon as the captain of the Springboks, Francois Pienaar.
INVICTUS – by William Ernest Henley (1849-1902)
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.