February 11 is the 20th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison after 27 years on Robbin Island. In the Sunday New York Times, political prisoners from around the world reflected on how that day affected their hopes and dreams for the future. Their words made me recall my experience of that day.
Home in my bathrobe, with my four-year-old daughter, I switched the channel from Sesame Street to watch history unfold. I remember telling Emilia about why we weren’t watching Elmo and Big Bird. I doubt she understood a word, but I was riveted and I remember her being patient about the change in her routine.
A few years ago I visited Cape Town, where I took the tour of Robbin Island and saw the prison where Mandela was held, the mine where he was forced to work, the view of the city and Table Mountain — maddeningly close.
Everywhere we went in South Africa, the affection and esteem for Mandela was palpable. He was and is a major part of the glue that holds South Africa together as it copes with the nuclear fallout of apartheid.
Mandela inspires for his courage and determination, his political skills as president, and his temperament. As he walked out prison, 20 years ago, his smile lit up the world. And it always will.