“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.” – Nelson Mandela
Thousands gathered in mourning as South Africa’s first Black president, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, passed away on Dec. 5. The former president died on the same day that the film named after his journey, “Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom,” premiered at Leicester Square, starring Idris Elba, who plays the man himself. The film is based on an autobiography of Mandela and thus was authorized by Madiba himself.
Mandela is by far one of the most influential people in history, as his fight for freedom and anti-apartheid revolution for the people of South Africa led him to being imprisoned for 27 years. After his release in 1990, Mandela would soon become an iconic figure not just in South Africa, but worldwide.
To mark the passing of Mandela, the AmNews conducted an interview with Ezz Witter, the former manager of the Mandela Centre, located in Chapeltown, Leeds, England. After a long talk with Witter, this reporter got an insight into the history of what the Mandela Centre is, as well as its purpose within the community.
Witter explained that he himself was a volunteer at the center, which was formerly known as the Boys Club, a center for youths that ran a course of activities but was soon closed down by local authorities.
“In 1981, the U.K. was gripped by uprisings, in what we would now call ‘riots,’” said Witter. “African Caribbean kids rose up against what we saw as police brutality, police harassment, social injustice and lack of opportunity. We, as the heads of the center, became even more radical as an organization and much more knowledgeable about social issues, hence becoming a vocal point, particularly for young people.
“During this time, Nelson Mandela was very much a prisoner in South Africa. He represented the struggles that we were going through, and that’s where the name [of the center] came from. We were very clear about what that meant, and we chose him particularly because he was seen by the system at that point as a terrorist and somebody who was raging against the oppressors—and that is how we made the link. In real terms, we brought the notion and the idea of the Mandela Centre to Leeds way before the system became aware of what was going on, which did bring on many problems for us as an organization. We were seen as radical, with minimum support from authorities or even local politicians. We did what we did on our own backs. We raised funds through outer youth club sessions.”
After the riots in the 1980s, Witter said that the government bodies and local authorities began to make an effort with youth clubs across Britain. “Resources were made available and a well-established youth center was being recognized. We set up huge amounts of organizations and groups within the center, like sports teams as well as art and theater productions. National youth exchanges were even set up where we would go to places like Bristol or Nottingham and offer our services as youth workers.”
In great respect of the hard life of Mandela, the community of Chapeltown, came together to celebrate the life of the legend by forming a tribute, which was planned in less than a week from his passing. On Dec. 14, there was a “Walk of Respect” to honor Mandela’s “Long Walk to Freedom.” The walk took place starting at the Mandela Garden, located at the Millennium Square in the Leeds Town Centre, and ended at the Mandela Centre. During the course of the event, the Amsterdam News was able to speak to some of the many organizers of the two-day tribute to get an insight into the community’s thoughts of the man himself.
Marvina Babs-Apata from the Angels of Youth, which is a community youth group program, expressed her views on Mandela, saying “Black history is Mandela; Black history is everybody’s history. That is why I wanted it to be as cool and diverse as it could be, and that is why there are different people here.” Babs-Apata described the “Walk of Respect” to be very successful and very well supported, as over 100 people joined the walk.
“The police came and supported us, we had the council support us and [made] sure that we walked safely.”
The community gathered in unity as performances from African dance groups came to contribute to the event. People also read their own personal poetry as well as poetry expressing their views on Mandela. People of the community gave speeches in remembrance of Mandela and what he meant to society. Chairperson of the Leeds West Indian Centre and co-founder Arthur Frances signified his views on Mandela and his impact of the community since his death.
“What happened at the Mandela Centre was an occasion where we had to celebrate the life of one of the greatest men that ever lived. You need something that will trigger a point to bring us together. I’m always determined to look how we can bridge the gap between African and Caribbean.”
On Dec. 15, the community gathered at the Leeds West Indian Centre to view the funeral service of Mandela. The “Long Walk to Freedom” ended physically for Madiba in his home village of Qunu, South Africa. As Frances said, “We are not responsible for the past, but we are responsible for the future.”