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Mandela’s precious legacy saluted

Manitobans pay tribute to South African leader

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IN Manitoba, Nelson Mandela’s legacy lives on in the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and in the teachings of one University of Manitoba history professor with a passion for South Africa.

"His contribution to global human rights is huge," said Stuart Murray, CEO of the museum opening Sept. 20, 2014.

"I think one of the most recognized and significant social movements of the post-war era is the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa," he said Thursday morning before news of Mandela’s death was made public. "His legacy doesn’t end with South Africa."

Mandela, who was made an honorary citizen of Canada in 2001, generated awareness, reflection and dialogue about human rights issues everywhere, said Murray. "It was extremely important for the people of South Africa and it was for all of humanity."

Learning Mandela’s death was imminent, the Free Press contacted several people early Thursday to gain their perspective on his legacy.

Mandela and the anti-apartheid movement are in the museum’s "Turning Points for Humanity" gallery, said Murray. The museum’s position is human rights are best promoted through education, and Mandela’s a good teacher, he said.

"He gave the world a powerful story to learn from that I think everyone heard. The campaign to free him was a rallying point."

The Turning Points for Humanity gallery will include information specifically about Mandela and "diptychs" — giant digital books with stories about racial discrimination and the roles social movements have had in combating racial discrimination, he said.

Murray said Canada has learned from South Africa’s experience.

"Our Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been modelled after what took place there," he said. "The ripple effect has been an incredibly powerful message and we have yet to hear the end of it. It will continue to be one of those echoing, strong, powerful human rights movements that will engage people and bring human rights to the forefront," he said. "That is what Nelson Mandela will leave for us." The head of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission said he wished he could have met Mandela.

"The magnitude of his influence around the world is significant," said Justice Murray Sinclair from the airport in Toronto Thursday before hearing about Mandela’s death.

The commission uncovering the impact of Canada’s Indian residential schools was modelled after the commission mandated by Mandela to expose and heal South Africa’s apartheid wounds.

"He had the foresight to support the development of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa and ensure it addressed the issues as fully as it did by appointing Rev. Desmond Tutu as its chair," said Sinclair.

"Reconciliation is about peace," he said.

In Canada, decades of residential schools and colonial policies were anything but conciliatory, he said. "Things will, of necessity, move slowly. We’re talking about changing the attitudes of generations."

Mandela’s story is at risk of being forgotten, warns University of Manitoba history professor Joyce Chadya, who is from Zimbabwe.

Teaching a course on South Africa to younger history students has been a "surprise" for her, she said Thursday before news of Mandela’s death broke.

"The surprise was how much they don’t know about Nelson Mandela at all — the group of kids 18 or 19 or 20," said Chadya. "They were born after this whole ‘African problem’ was over" and Mandela was released from prison in 1990.

"I ask, ‘How many of you know what apartheid is?’ and there will be one or two raised hands," said Chadya.

"It’s not like they’re forgetting — they don’t know," said Chadya, who earned a master’s degree at the University of Zimbabwe and a doctorate at the University of Minnesota.

University of Winnipeg president and former foreign affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy paid tribute to Mandela Thursday.

"Mr. Mandela remained a beacon of tenacity and hope for decades," Axworthy said.

What lessons should today’s political leaders take from the legacy of Nelson Mandela? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 6, 2013 A5

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