Saturday, December 28, 2013


About a year ago I was called in to edit a video obituary on Nelson Mandela for BET (Black Entertainment Television) News. He was in the hospital and the world's attention was on South Africa. A few days later he emerged and went home and the world breathed a sigh of relief. On December 5th this year, I was called back to finish the job. "Madiba" as he was lovingly known in his country, was finally free. The long years spent on planet earth, most of them in torment, had come to an end. As President Obama pointed out, Nelson Rollhlahla Mandela now belonged to the ages. The long road traversed, had come to an end.

As a film editor I look at many hours of footage to condense it to the most essential elements. Moments that would inform, entertain and take the viewer on a journey of discovery and exploration in an effortless way. I guide the viewer's gaze and make the story flow with music and visual juxtaposition. And from the endless hours of footage, emerges a coherent story. What I gain in the process, is a wealth of knowledge and an insight that is perceptive and enriching.

While I sat in a dark edit room at 2 AM in Manhattan, watching the live feed of the memorial and funeral of Nelson Mandela coming in from South Africa, it placed me right in the moment in real time. I became a part of history in an infinitesimal sense. I was there grieving, celebrating, learning and enjoying the passing of a man who like many before him had left an indelible mark on the timeline of humanity.

When Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990, invincible and unbowed, his story became an international event. Very soon movies, documentaries and books began to be made about his life and the birth of a new nation (the latest one being "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom")  Western nations and leaders that called Mandela a terrorist and propped up his enemy, made him their hero. For Americans, especially Black Americans he became a personification of their own struggles. He joined the ranks of their hallowed leaders who fought to end the other Apartheid not too long ago. At the memorial service President Obama paid homage to his legacy by saying that his own ascent was partly inspired by Mandela's journey.

The defeat of an entrenched, oppressive and brutal Apartheid regime, and the emergence of a democratic nation based on tolerance, compromise and reconciliation, set an example for the world to appreciate and emulate. Mandela gained freedom at 71, and within a decade created a nation which in principle put aside retribution to create a society that would have a chance to grow and evolve in the long run. Unlike many other African leaders, some his friends, he relinquished power and allowed his colleagues to build upon his vision. With his departure that vision stands in the balance, as poverty among the majority black population ravages the nation and corruption grips the ruling class, and the fear of reprisals among the white population rises to the surface.

Revolutions, violent and non-violent, are not fought and won alone. Many die along the way, others sacrifice much if not more, but the "chosen ones" who see the big picture prevail, persevere and get immortalized. Nelson Mandela certainly fit that mold. His story is of fortitude and courage, his sacrifice makes his story that much more powerful. With out his colleagues Steve Biko, Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, Chris Hani and other unnamed foot soldiers nothing could have been achieved. But it is the emergence of his voice of reason that bore fruit. Nelson Mandela's transformation from a  violent approach to a non-violent one, is a journey of not just self realization but of strategy and insight. While he did take lessons from his predecessors (Gandhi and King) his struggle was very different from theirs. His true genius lies in the fact that he negotiated and executed the demise of a regime from a place of incarceration and then followed through with his vision against the will of his compatriots and brothers in arms.

Those who become symbols of struggle and then freedom, run the risk of being deified. Mandela in his halcyon days made every effort to avoid that by openly reflecting on his personal failings, missteps and inadequacies. Despite his efforts he has joined the exclusive pantheon of the saintly. As time goes on his cult of personality will only grow. South Africa inaugurated an imposing statue of his likeness the very next day he was interred. In the million obituaries that were written and spoken, he was elevated to having an aura around him. In reality he was a man who saw the big picture and knew his place in time. He was a resilient man of strength and tenacity. As quoted in his favorite poem "Invictus" he was "the captain of his soul" but not as much a "master of his fate".

As the year comes to an end and we remember those who left their mark on the speck of humanity, his name will definitely lead the pack. Whether his legacy will influence people in power, only time will tell. As Mahatma Gandhi famously said "My life is my message" so is Madiba's . That is all. It is what it is.