CAS Celebration of the Life of Nelson Mandela
On December 10, five days after the passing of Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first democratically elected President, the Center for African Studies held a celebration of his life at the University YMCA. After an opening by Provost Adesida and CAS Director Merle Bowen, the event featured three speakers from South Africa who are local residents: Bheki Madela, a Ph.D. candidate in the College of Education; Ken Salo, a professor in Urban Planning; and William Munro, a professor of Political Science at Illinois Wesleyan. Madela kept to the celebratory tone of the event by teaching the crowd various slogans and songs of the liberation struggle in South Africa. He also recounted how Mandela inspired him as a young person growing up under apartheid and set an example that allowed Black youth to chart a path of success. Both Salo and Munro emphasized both the important contributions of Mandela but also the contradictions of the South Africa he left behind--a society still riddled with poverty and inequality.
Professor Terri Barnes, who lived in South Africa for eighteen years during the transition from apartheid to democracy, cautioned those who would invoke Mandela’s name but not follow his example. She noted President Obama’s comment that Mandela’s example had made him a better man and urged the US President to demonstrate that he was a better man by freeing political prisoners Leonard Peltier and Lynne Stewart. Professor Barnes also did a commentary for the News-Gazette and the U of I “Minute With” portal. You can link to them here and here.
The event also included a cultural component--musical performances by Amira Davis and family as well as a moving poetry reading by local activist Aaron Ammons who recounted how the autobiography of Nelson Mandela had lifted him up at a particularly low moment in his life.
The celebration closed with responses from the audience including an inspiring presentation by Professor Eyamba Bokamba from Linguistics, who spoke of the hope that Mandela’s example would inspire people with a spirt of “courageous compassion” to struggle for the liberation of “all humanity.” For more photos of the celebration, visit For a video of the entire event, visit: http://youtu.be/DTlGntP24vw