Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Black History Month - Nelson Mandela's release

If we go forward we die; if we go backward we die; better go forward and die. (South Africa - Zulu)

1990 - Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela freed from prison after 27 years.

Up to the 1970s, freedom for Nelson Mandela seemed less likely than a snowfall on a Jamaican beach. So when the impossible happened, I dressed in my Ghanaian outfit and went as close to African soil as I could. A group of us went to the Nigerian Embassy in Jamaica, and celebrated with drums and dancing. Later, we marched from the embassy to a park that was re-named for Nelson Mandela. "I have to wrap my mind around being able to go home again." South African told me. A freedom fighter, she had been exiled for decades.

For most of 27 years spend in prison, Nelson Mandela was locked up on Robben Island. He could leave his prison cell only to break rocks in a quarry. Further, as a political prisoner he could receive only one visitor and one letter every six months. The censors often delayed Mandela’s letters, and marked them up so badly that he was often unable to read the letters. Nonetheless, Mandela found creative ways to communicate with the outside world.

In 1985, the apartheid government offered to release him in exchange for giving up the anti-apartheid struggle. Nelson responded by stating, “"What freedom am I being offered while the organisation of the people remains banned? Only free men can negotiate. A prisoner cannot enter into contracts.”

People all over the world celebrated Nelson’s unconditional release. On the day of his release, he said:

Our resort to the armed struggle in 1960 with the formation of the military wing of the ANC was a purely defensive action against the violence of apartheid. The factors which necessitated the armed struggle still exist today. We have no option but to continue. We express the hope that a climate conducive to a negotiated settlement would be created soon, so that there may no longer be the need for the armed struggle.

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was president of South Africa from May 1994 to June 1999.

Also on this date in:

1644 - First Black legal protest in U.S. by 11 Blacks who petitioned for freedom in NY.

1979 - Grammy award winning singer, actress Brandy born Brandy Rayana Norwood in McComb, Mississippi.

2007 – Barack Obama launched his US presidential campaign

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When the occasion arises, there is a proverb to suit it. (Proverb from Rwanda and Burundi)

Welcome to this space where we can talk about proverbs that we can relate to (or not), and proverbs that make sense to us (or not). Most of all we can discuss how proverbs make us think about life and living. We can also share experiences of proverbs that have provided us with lifelines or just the chance to reflect.

Some of the proverbs here may also be found in "Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs", published by Random House and authored by Askhari Johnson Hodari and me. The foreword is written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

One of the unique features of our book is that we arranged the proverbs according to life cycle, in sections including, Birth, Childhood, Love, Marriage, and Intimacy, Challenge, and Death.

For more proverbs and for information on Lifelines: the Black Book of Proverbs, please visit us at