🔊 Summer of peace heroes: Nelson Mandela

The WoW! News podcast – How what Nelson Mandela learned as a boy helped him bring peace to South Africa. Plus our summer of peace quiz!

Transcript podcast – July 24, 2020

A – Hello and welcome to WoW!, the positive podcast! Showing kids that there’s a lot more to the world news than bad news.

I’m Alastair. As a journalist, I’ve often written about things going wrong. But people also need to know too about what’s going right, to know that we can change the world for the better.

This week, we’re continuing our summer of peace with the first of our profiles of great peacemakers. You remember that with Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots movement for young people, we’re preparing to mark the International Day of Peace on Sept. 21. See if you can guess which winner of the Nobel Peace Prize we’re talking about this week. Here goes…

Music (South African anthem)

Nearly a hundred years ago, a boy grew up in a village of colourful huts, shaped like round beehives, in a green valley near the southernmost tip of Africa.

His parents called him Rolihlahla. Maybe they saw something in his future. Because the name means “troublemaker”.  He would cause a lot of trouble – for people with bad ideas!

The boy learned how to live happily with the nature all around him. He had fun swimming in cold streams or sliding down smooth rocks that his friends called their “roller-coaster”. They didn’t need to go to a theme park!

A favourite game was fighting with sticks. He learned that winning wasn’t about being the biggest or the strongest – or having the biggest stick. He had to work out what the other person would do next – and to know what his own advantages were.

He learned something else, too. That would be important when he grew up.

One day, his friends took turns to try and ride a donkey in the village. The animal got grumpier and grumpier. By the time Rolihlahla clambered on its back, the donkey had had enough. It pitched him into a bush. How his friends laughed at him!

Rolihlahla felt humiliated. He’d been made to look silly. That hurt more than a scratched face and bruised knees. It was so horrible that from then on, he promised himself never to embarrass people. If he won a fight, he would tell his opponent he had fought well. He knew that laughing at them would hurt them so much that they would always want to get back at him – and he would never have peace.

When he went away to school, he had to speak English, not his family’s language. His teacher gave Rolihlahla a new, English, name. She called him Nelson. Nelson Mandela.

Though Nelson learned from books, he also learned by watching. For example, he observed the people of his tribe debate important matters for their community. Everyone was listened to, he saw. They made decisions that were OK for everyone – it’s called consensus. No one felt humiliated or forced into doing something just because the others wanted it that way.

Nelson’s cleverness helped him get to university. He was unusual there because he had black skin, like most Africans. But in Nelson’s country, South Africa, a small number of people with white skin owned nearly everything. Their families had come from Europe and they mostly spoke English or a kind of Dutch called Afrikaans.

Nelson organised demonstrations, especially after the government introduced a new set of laws to keep power and money in the hands of “whites”.

These laws were called “apartheid”. It means keeping apart in Dutch. It was against the law for white and black people to fall in love. “Blacks” couldn’t use things that were for “whites only” – shops, buses, beaches, even park benches.

Nelson and his friends tried to copy how Indians had just won their freedom from Britain by peaceful, or non-violent, protests led by a man called Mahatma Gandhi.

But in South Africa, the government didn’t listen. They banned demonstrations and police killed protesters. Nelson got impatient and started to organise blowing up things, like electricity pylons. He was arrested and put on trial. He didn’t deny the explosions. But he said it was the apartheid government that were the criminals.

He said he was against whites having all the power, but also against blacks having it. He fought to create a country where “all people will live together in harmony”.

The judge sent him and his friends to prison for life. It was hard. But Nelson was patient. And like a clever stick fighter, he used his time to study his opponents.

Nelson learned to speak the language of his jailers, Afrikaans. He learned about their hopes and fears, their lives. Some guards came to like him and help him.

For nearly 30 years, as Nelson grew old in prison, South Africa got worse. There was more violence and people abroad stopped doing business with South Africa in protest against apartheid. Eventually, the government came to Nelson and said they would let him go if only he would help them win back their business.

Nelson said ‘no’. He would only help if they gave black people and everyone in South Africa the same rights and held free elections. He knew his own strengths.

The government finally agreed and let Nelson out of prison. Many whites were afraid that black people would take revenge. Many blacks wanted revenge.

But even after spending nearly half his life in prison, Nelson didn’t let that happen. He stuck to what he told the judge at his trial – that he wanted South Africans of all colours to live in peace together. He declared that it would be the rainbow nation.

Nelson never forgot what he learned as a boy in the countryside, a boy called Rolihlahla, who knew about all the different parts of Nature living in harmony.

He didn’t forget what he learned when he fell off the donkey into the thorn bush and the others laughed at him – the lesson about not humiliating your opponent. 

He didn’t forget his people, who had suffered for many years. But he also didn’t forget what he learned from his prison guards, who also wanted to live in peace.

Many black people were amazed that, after they elected Nelson Mandela the president of South Africa, he appointed not just blacks to help him but also some of the white men who had helped keep him in prison.

Nelson explained that we shouldn’t forget the past. But that if we don’t make peace with our opponents, then we are trapped in the past and can never stop fighting.

One of Nelson’s biggest successes involved the game of rugby. How was that? Well, rugby in South Africa was mostly played by whites, Afrikaners. Most blacks preferred football and hated the white rugby team, the Springboks. Nelson himself remember cheering in prison if any other country beat South Africa at rugby.

But in 1995, just after Nelson became president, South Africa hosted the Rugby World Cup. The Springboks’ white fans were excited. But black people wanted to make the Springboks change their name and stop wearing their famous green jerseys. It would be a kind of revenge on the whites.

But, again, Nelson said ‘no’. That would just humiliate white South Africans – and maybe make more of them try to get their own back against black people.

Nelson persuaded the Springboks to do more to meet and help black people. He persuaded black South Africans to put football aside for a bit and support the white rugby team. Amazingly, against all the experts’ expectations, do you know what? The Springboks won the World Cup. Nelson put on the famous Springbok green jersey to present the cup. And the ‘rainbow nation’ celebrated together.

Twenty-five years later, things are difficult in South Africa. But Nelson Mandela is remembered for averting what was nearly a war. By listening to his opponents, by being patient and knowing his own strengths, he made peace. Do you think those are ideas that can be useful to you in your own life? I think they can help all of us!

Now, I know you’ve been concentrating. So, shall we have a quick quiz to see how closely you really were listening? OK? Here goes. Three questions. Quick as you like.

Number One: What was the name that Nelson Mandela’s mum and dad gave him when he was born? Hm, bit tricky, eh? Was it (a) Roland (b) Ronald or (c) Rolihlahla? What do think? Roland, Ronald or Rolihlahla? Three, two, have to hurry you, one.

  • Yes, well done! It was Rolihlahla! It’s a name in his family’s language Xhosa, one of the main languages of South Africa. And do you remember what it means? Yes? Troublemaker! How appropriate! He made trouble for apartheid, sure enough, though really we remember Nelson Mandela as a peacemaker.

Now, Question Two, how did Nelson describe the new South Africa, where people with all colours of skin would live in peace? Was it (a) the Rainbow Nation or (b) the Raincoat Nation or (c) the Rainy Country? Is that easy for you? What do you think?

  • Well done if you got the Rainbow Nation. It has many colours and, of course, to get a rainbow, first you have to live through a rainstorm. It’s not usually very rainy in South Africa, so they really don’t need to wear a raincoat very often!

And, here we go, final question, what sport is played by the South African national team, the Springboks? Is it (a) football, (b) rugby or (c) cricket? You remember? A springbok is a South African antelope. It’s famous for jumping high in the air and running fast. Does that help?

  • Well, bravo and full points if you said ‘rugby’.

So how was that for you? Did you get three out of three? Let us know if you did!

Ouf, well, that’s enough listening for one podcast. If you’ve enjoyed learning about Nelson Mandela, do tell a friend! And tune in again in two weeks for the second in our summer peacemakers series. Meanwhile, you can catch up on all our stories and podcasts at our website wow-news.eu. Have a peaceful summer!

Alastair editor of WoW!





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