Column: ‘Open Letter’ To Nelson Mandela

July 14, 2017

[Opinion column written by Glenn Fubler]

Letter to Nelson Mandela

“….one must never, in one’s own life, accept …injustices as commonplace but must fight them with all one’s strength. This fight begins, however, in the heart and it now had been laid to my charge to keep my own heart free of hatred and despair”.

Dear Nelson,

I write you, beyond the grave, as one who has been inspired by your example. I do this as your 99th Birthday approaches, informing you that on that date – July 18th – Bermuda will be holding a General Election; one way for us to celebrate your Spirit.

I’ve chosen an ‘Open Letter’ as a means of encouraging the 70 -odd election-candidates, to reflect on your example of leadership. In addition, having Bermuda residents, considering your story helps us appreciate that our ‘’right to vote” is but one aspect of our power to improve our community.

The introductory above-quote, from James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son, resonates with your famous speech before the judge during the Rivonia Trial in 1964. You and your colleagues had been found guilty of Treason and the Prosecution was calling for Death sentences. Your memorable statement to the judge was clear:

“I have fought against white domination. I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a free and democratic society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realized. But, My Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die”.

In your later years, you clarified that you were ‘no saint’, but one; ‘.. who tried to get up when [you] fell down..’ The Rivonia speech evidences your efforts to ‘…keep your own heart free …’

A small group of us in Bermuda in 1982 began collaborating with the global anti-apartheid movement, because of the ‘connections’ between our two countries; although our experience was far less brutal than South Africa’s. That said, like societies everywhere, we remain a ‘work in progress’ and this General Election will be another milestone on ‘the long road..’.

Our story of progress includes a number of exemplars. Gladys Morrell led the movement for women’s right to vote for 3 decades, before success in 1944. Her persistence inspired Dr Eustace Cann to break with fellow black Parliamentarians who had perennially opposed Morrell on the grounds that her efforts fell-short of the ‘whole loaf’. Cann moved outside of that ‘box’, standing alone, on the principle that this was a key step forward.

That victory for Women voting rights leveraged forward momentum in Bermuda, generally and within weeks, a group of craftsmen building the US Naval Base approached Dr Cann, seeking help to form a union. The Bermuda Workers Association was subsequently formed. While Cann graciously declined their invitation to serve as President – because of commitments to the new Sandy’s Secondary project – Dr Gordon accepted that role. The rest is history.

Other exemplars include members of the Progressive Group [PG] which instigated the transformation of Bermuda through the Theatre Boycott. That group included Clifford Maxwell, a math teacher at ‘Tech’, who spent much time voluntarily tutoring students from other schools; ignoring society’s ‘boxes’ as he ‘..kept his own heart free…’

Clifford’s generousity is characteristic of those prepared to be open-hearted. Similarly, you and your colleagues on Robben Island, took correspondence courses, fostering personal growth, you reached out and encouraged wardens to do likewise. With faith in yourselves, in spite of perceptions of ‘powerlessness’, you created your own ‘level playing field’.

Likewise, mentor to Dame Lois, Wilfred ‘Mose’ Allen, ‘former infamous street-fighter’, would engage directly –over tea – with Sir Henry ‘Jack’ Tucker, to discuss challenging community matters in the ‘70’s & ‘80’s.

The common theme with you exemplars – Nelson – is that you open-heartedly avoid ‘boxes’ of race, class, party, tribe, etc.

As we prepare for this Election, we know that no matter the outcome, our Island will be addressing the same challenges, facing the global community. In light of this, we know that no matter who controls the formal political power, Bermuda will be best served by collaboration amongst ALL involved. Collaboration requires a ‘generous spirit’ – an open heart. Drawing inspiration from you, Nelson and other exemplars, will hopefully spark that spirit.


- Glenn Fubler


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  1. David Johnson says:

    Excellent and very timely Glenn. Pay attention people and act accordingly!