Roger Simon: What Nelson Mandela overcame
I was a lot confused and a little scared. Bleck? What was bleck?
The guard pointed at my face. "You are white!" he said. "You are not bleck!"
I am not a European, I told the angry man. I am an American.
Symbolically, this was no small thing.
In other parts of the world - America included - racism was allowed. Under apartheid, racism was demanded.
"Yes, you can go to Robben Island," C. Schmidt told me. "But you can never come back."
Though over the next month black South Africans managed to sneak me in to all sorts of places where I was not supposed to go, Robben Island was too tough a nut to crack. A former leper colony, it was 3 miles off the coast of Cape Town, and aside from the guards, South Africa had a navy and air force to patrol it.
In Cellblock B, Mandela and Clinton walked down a long, featureless gray corridor to tiny Cell 5, which contained only a small stack of felt blankets, a slop bucket, a tin plate and a cup.
But it was on a different island that a different Mandela had emerged.
It was Goree, 3 miles off the coast of Senegal on the western bulge of Africa. For hundreds of years, wooden ships sailed from there to the New World with slaves chained in their holds.
When he emerged, he had no smiles, no jokes. Tears streamed down his face, and he did not speak.
The wrong done to his people, the wrong done to humanity, was sometimes more than he could bear.
But in the end, he bore it. "Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies," he once said.
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