I will never forget the day. It was the beginning of 2010, I was 25 years old, living in Oxford (England) with a 55-year-old Canadian named Rod, and a guy from New Zealand named Ed, who was about my age and became one of my best friends till this day. We were about to watch a South African film directed by Hollywood, and I was so excited and proud to show my flatmates what South Africans we're made off! The proud nation that we are and how we could stand together to accomplish great things! This was exactly what the film Invictus was about, directed by the legend himself, Clint Eastwood. With Matt Damon playing Francois Pienaar, (the Springbok captain), and Morgan Freeman playing Nelson Mandela, probably one of the greatest leaders of all time. The film was about the 1995 Rugby world cup, but also about Nelson Mandela and the vital role he played in our nation's future during this time where we needed a victory so desperately!
You might ask, what was I doing in the UK or in Oxford? In all honestly, I was running from my problems. Because in my heart I believed that first world countries had a better future than what South Africa could offer me. Like many who have left South Africa or would if they had the opportunity, I too failed to find value in building a career or a family in the place I call home. What blows me away, is that even though I felt that way and even though I would tell almost anyone I knew back then that South Africa had no future, while I was watching this film Invictus, I could not help but feel this fire stirring up inside of me. One where I was reminded of how amazing South Africans can be, and what we can accomplish individually as well as collectively. I felt so proud to sit in front of my Canadian and Kiwi flatmate, boasting about how awesome we are and how much we have overcome!
But it all came crashing down and I realized that not only was I a hypocrite, but I was giving up something that meant so much to me and that I clearly loved more than I could imagine. My home, my people, and my fighting spirit to make this world a better place, and to do that where it matters, where I was called too, South Africa. What made it even worse was when my flatmates began to ask me questions about Nelson Mandela, and I could not answer any of them. I knew nothing about him and I realized in shock and despair how clueless I was and how my belief system was based entirely on what other people told me to believe.
I have nothing against first world countries, there is a lot of first world privileges that I miss to this day, like the internet speed. But what I came to realize was that the truth in our quest for a greater future was not about answering the question; is the grass greener on the other side? But by gaining the understanding that:
THE GRASS IS NOT DETERMINED BY THE OTHER SIDE!
I took it upon myself that to establish a thinking pattern and a base of knowledge that would enable me to know and understand what South Africa truly meant to me as a person and as a South African. I came to the conclusion that growing up we experience constant attacks on how bad things can be and are to become, and that almost every conversation we take part in that revolves around the future of our nation ends up in the negative. So the very first thing I did was buy Nelson Mandela's book, Long Walk to Freedom, and read it back to front!
I was amazed by this man, his values and his outlook on life. How he installed disciplines and a mindset to overcome any and all obstacles in his path. How he was able to maintain balance in his life between body, mind, and spirit. Even when he studied to become a lawyer, not only did he do so to achieve one of the top requirements of a business, but he mainly did so in order to assist those that cannot afford legal advice. He would work out and exercise, each and every day, inside and outside of prison. Even when he lived in a single cell, he would wake up every day and train on the spot, running, shadow boxing, push ups and anything he could do to keep his body strong. He knew the value behind this, whether he would make it out of prison dead or alive, he understood the importance of exercise and that no matter where you are or what situation you're in, maintaining your bodies strength is a non-negotiable and something that is always accessible! One of my favorite quotes come from his book:
"Exercise decimates tension, and tension is the enemy of serenity"! I know this of heart!
On top of that, there are many things he did that I value and try to apply to my life today, not just staying healthy. He never used to drink excessively, in fact, he actually did not drink at all. I'm still working on that one (haha), however, I've trimmed it down considerably, and it has improved my life dramatically. He also used to grow vegetables and plants, while in prison. I love cooking and my wife and I grow most of our herbs ourselves, and we will soon be growing veggies as well. I never truly understood why he did this until I began to do it myself. I realized that there is such beauty in this process. Firstly because it is not easy, you have to get your soil right, certain plants need less or more shade than others, and you need to apply less or more water to some than others. But when you get it right, and you begin to see this amazing life giving and tummy filling plant come from nothing but a seed, it makes you appreciate the finer things. Every day we go to the supermarket and just get what we want or need, but when we realise for ourselves the process of getting that plant on the shelf, we begin to understand that life is about so much more than just getting what we want or need, it's about understanding that what we want or need is actually something so special and amazing that we should never take it for granted. I believe that growing plants reminded Nelson of this and that even if he was in prison for that long, the plants showed him that life is precious and special and that his life is precious and special, irrespective of his circumstances.
But the thing that stood out the most, was his ability to forgive and how he enabled himself to do this. You see Nelson studied his enemies, to the point where they became his friends. He studied their language, their way of living and thinking, and I believe that is what made him realize that in any culture, there is good and bad. Should we choose to overcome our challenges and raise ourselves to become the best we can be, we need to only look at the good, and continue to focus on the good. That is what made him the leader that he was, because irrespective of what was done to him, he came out of that situation with the wisdom and understanding that we cannot look at the bad, and we need to emerge ourselves with the people around us, no matter how different they are. If it was not for that there probably would not have been a world cup for the Springboks, there might never have been that movie, and my life and my opinion about who I wanted to be as a South African might never have changed.
That day I made a promise to myself, that I would one day return to South Africa and do my best to be that person that not only wants to make a difference but will never stop doing what I have to do until I actually made a difference. I believe that the change has to start with us, and from there flow out to others. I refuse to speak badly about my country, I refuse to get angry about stuff that I don't understand or know anything about. The day I get upset about a taxi driver doing something they're not supposed to, will be the day I become a taxi driver long enough to prove to myself that I can do so without actually breaking the rules. That I believe is where we can all begin to make an immediate change in ourselves that will reflect onto others to the extent where we can begin to see a difference. Let us not judge until we have truly put ourselves in their shoes, let us not even begin to get angry, until we understand that person and their situation just as much as we would want them to understand ours, before judging us.
We have so many problems in South Africa, however, we have become so used to staring at them and waiting for others to resolve the issues that concern us most, instead of finding real solutions to resolve them ourselves! During the great depression in America, more millionaires came to life than any time in history, even until this day. Seems to me they had a lot of problems, but instead of looking at the rest of the world and complaining about how they seem to be doing everything better, they looked at solutions that eventually made their problems turn into opportunities. I believe that we have plenty of ways to solve our problems. I hope to one day bring some of them to light and through that create amazing opportunities for our people, myself and my family. But first we need to truly begin to invest ourselves in those we do not understand, instead of blaming them for our own problems.
I read on Wikipedia that we have 11 official languages in South Africa, with less than 2 percent of people being able to speak more than their home language. I can only imagine what would happen to some first world countries if only 2 percent of the people could communicate the way we had too. Yet none of us seem to understand the value behind this, a principle Nelson understood and look what he was able to accomplish with it. My goal is to one day speak at least 2 more South African languages and I cannot wait for that day to come. Not so that I can understand what more people around me are saying, but so that I can prove to my fellow countryman how much I appreciate them. Nothing shows more appreciation then someone doing the effort to understand your language and your culture, and nothing can build stronger foundations than a nation of people that truly understand each other's values and principles. That is something we lack in South Africa, but again, in my opinion, this is not a problem, but a massive opportunity just waiting for a practical solution.
First, we have to change ourselves, our opinions, our belief systems. Truth be told most of the struggles we face could come from within our own families, but the key is that we do not have to become a person that fights fire with fire. All we have to do is take the time and the effort to learn more about one another, understand more, and truly familiarize with each other. I believe that through that, sooner rather than later our growth in knowledge and understanding will provide us with clear practical principles on how we can make our Nation a better place. Ultimately turning our own problems, into solutions, that have massive opportunities for all of us! I believe that this counts for anyone from any country. If you prefer to make another nation your home, then please do so, but get to a point where your decisions and beliefs are based on what you know to be true, not what other people tell you to be true. Get to a point where what you say is not fear based, but based on true values and principles that give hope, encouragement and inspiration. Once you find that, where ever it may be, settle your roots and no matter what the circumstance, fight for a better cause and a greater purpose!!
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