I hate to admit this. After all, I spent years researching and writing a novel that explores Mandela’s effect, in one way or another, on most of the characters. I just published it late this year. Flash back to the 1980s with numerous township protests in South Africa, international governments declaring the country ungovernable, and the South African government declaring a state of emergency. What am I doing? Living my life, working part time, going to school and raising two girls.
One day I’m at a street fair in San Diego and there is a T-shirt booth. One with a lion in dreadlocks catches my eye. The vendor explains how the lion is a Rasta symbol of the strength required to carry on despite opression. We talk about Africa, then specifically South Africa. He explains how it is really two countries, how they are in a civil war, and how the government has imprisoned Mandela because he tried to free his people. I sympathize, buy the T-shirt and go on with my life.
Jump forward twenty years. I’m writing a novel about sisters and one of its themes is what makes us come out of our own skin and spend some time inside another’s long enough to care, long enough to do something. I’m out of school and the girls are grown. I have more time. I read in the news that a statue of Mandela has been erected in Sandton Square, Johannesburg. Mandela is once again on my radar. I research his life and come to understand that he is one of the great men of my lifetime. My book changes, its scope grows wider. So does my heart.