Simon SaysSimon Says NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small

Copyright ©2013 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

By the time he died this week, Nelson Mandela was considered one of the few - maybe the only - giant on the world stage. But the man who was prisoner 466-slash-64 on Robben Island, was a giant among heroes who offered their lives for freedom as valiantly as he did. In a way, the acclaim the world now heaps so justly on Nelson Mandela commemorates them, too.

There was Walter Sisulu, who first recruited Nelson Mandela to the African National Congress, and formed the ANC Youth League with him in 1944. He was arrested many times, and spent years living underground before they were arrested and stood trial in 1964. When a prosecutor told the court the defendants did not represent the real South Africa, Mr. Sisulu replied: Why doesn't the government put the matter to the test by having elections in which everyone could vote? They had no answer.

There is Ahmed Kathrada, who also stood in the dock with Nelson Mandela, and cracked rocks with him on Robben Island. He was inmate 468/64. After their release, Mr. Kathrada wrote a great memoir, called "A Simple Freedom," in which he said that a prisoner can look through his cell window and choose to see either bars or stars.

There's Stephen Biko, a fierce, funny and eloquent former medical student who led the Black Consciousness Movement. In the 1970s, while Nelson Mandela and other ANC leaders languished in prison, Mr. Biko seemed to many exactly what South Africa's racist regime feared he would be: the next generation in the struggle against apartheid. He was banned in 1973, and arrested outright in 1977; thrown into a prison cell in Port Elizabeth, stripped and chained. Police said, unconvincingly, that he struck his own head. So they put him, naked, into the back of a police van and drove 750 miles to Pretoria, where he died of his wounds. Steven Biko was almost 31.

There are so many names to memorialize, they are difficult to remember. There were the men, women and children who died at the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960, when police fired into a crowd protesting a law of South Africa's apartheid; and those who died in the Soweto shootings of 1976. And there were thousands of township kids who marched peacefully, and boldly, into police bludgeons. Each sacrifice helped tip South Africa toward justice.

In many ways, the victims of apartheid pardoned their country. As Stephen Biko said: In time, we shall be in a position to bestow on South Africa the greatest possible gift - a more human face.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Simon SaysSimon Says NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small