By Audette Exel, Founder and Chair, The ISIS Foundation
On behalf of all the ISIS Family
The ISIS family stands with the world in honouring the legacy of a truly great man. For hundreds of millions of people worldwide, perhaps billions, the passing of Nelson Mandela is a deeply personal moment. As it is for me.
Mandela inspired me all my adult life, and his journey and choices profoundly politicised me as a university student. My passionate belief in human rights and social activism crystallised around Mandela on the streets of New Zealand, first at Free Mandela rallies, and then during the Springbok Tour of 1981.
In a richly multicultural country like New Zealand, the idea of apartheid was abhorrent and upsetting. In the early days, we marched in friendly rallies to cries of ” Steve, Steve Biko” and ” remember Sharpeville”. We stood in front of the Beehive: Parliament House, joined arms and sang about Soweto. And most of all, we held up the concept of Mandela…still then to spend another decade in prison…as a shining light who stood for all that was unjust about apartheid and race hatred. We sang. We believed in change.
And then in 1981 the Springboks came to New Zealand: and my beloved country broke sanctions in its desire to see rugby played between the worlds best teams. I remember being profoundly ashamed to be white, and to be a New Zealander.
Out onto the streets we went: twice a week for 56 days, and the mood changed from good-natured protest to almost civil war. Kiwis were “Pro Tour” or “Anti Tour”. People threw their beer glasses at us from pubs as we marched by. The police baton-charged us. Instead of songs, there was blood, and anger, and division. Hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders came onto the streets, week after week. We lay on the streets, we tried not to be afraid, and we stood up for what was right.
And for me, my journey of fighting for human rights was set. That time altered the course of my life, cemented my values, and underpins much of what the work of ISIS has been about.
Years later, I flew to Washington to see Mandela speak at a conference. By then he was not only free, he was the President of the country that had imprisoned him. I was completely overwhelmed to see the man on stage. I stood in that audience and realised….anything is possible. Courage and integrity are at the heart of all great change. And we should never, ever give up.
Nelson Mandela, thank you for shaping my life, and for inspiring ISIS.
“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 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 rest only for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.”
Nelson Mandela 1918- 2013