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In 2003, I had the pleasure of a 4-week visit to South Africa (alongside others from my alma mater, SBU). This trip was one of the most rewarding short-term international experiences I've ever had, and this is due almost entirely to our team leader, Val, who spent the entire academic year prior to the trip schooling us on the history and current environment in South Africa, insofar as to learn all the words to the national anthem (in four different languages!).

I won't get into the details of what we did with our four weeks, but it was diverse and highly educational to the situation in SA nine years after Apartheid ended. I'll never forget it, and despite the fact that my studies and interests are now focused on the nations of East Africa, South Africa still holds a very special place in my heart.

Shortly after returning from South Africa, I determined that Nelson Mandela's autobiography, "Long Walk to Freedom" was a must read for me. The result: he became my hero and the historical and political figure that I am most endeared to.

When I heard from John that a movie starring Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela was being released, I was very excited:

Toby and I saw it yesterday. Toby's only verbal response was something about "little hot tears in the corner of my eyes". That says something. For me, I was newly inspired by Mandela's heart for reconciliation, but also saddenned that the country has not been able to hold to it after that great year of Rugby World Cup victory (little hot tears came, too). Let's hope that the new president, Jacob Zuma, will continue to pave the way for hope and unification in a severely diverse nation.

As for the movie itself, it was fantastic. Freeman and Matt Damon portrayed Mandela and Rugby team captain Francois Pienaar quite well, and the representation of barely-post-Apartheid life in Pretoria was well-done (based on what I know of it). The focus on Mandela's security team was insightful and a powerful representation of new friendships among blacks and whites. Plus there was a lot of grunting and tackling rugby action for the sports fans, and the typical thrill of anticipating who will be the victor of a major sporting event.

Please see this film and be inspired by it--but know that the fight for reconciliation in South Africa and many other developing nations is not over, and probably never will be. But we can have attitudes of reconciliation and forgivenes ourselves, whether here at home or if we find ourselves abroad in one of these struggling nations, and we can pray that our attitudes can spread hope to the hopeless.

I'm thankful for Mandiba and what he did for his country, and the message he's sent to the world.

Here is the poem by William Ernest Henley that gives this film it's title, and that Mandiba held on to during his 27 years in prison on Robben Island:

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.