To mark Nelson Mandela International Day 2015, our Senior Head of Digital Marketing and E-Commerce, Mkwama Ndeti, shares with us the significance of Mandela in her life and what she learnt from this courageous and inspiring man.

In the early eighties, when I got my first passport, I remember beaming with joy and excitement; here was this shiny new document that would allow me to travel anywhere in the world. It was liberating and exhilarating all at the same time. As I flicked through the pages, I came across a page that said “restrictions” and on it there was a stamp for South Africa. This stamp meant I could visit any country in the world, apart from South Africa.

I immediately felt deflated. I could not understand why I wouldn’t be allowed to visit another African country, after all I was African. Who were these South Africans and why were they restricting my personal freedom, telling me I couldn’t visit their country?

It was hard to comprehend as a young child; I was too young to understand the significance or importance of it all – I guess this is what sanctions meant. I pestered my mum and dad to explain it all to me. They told me that we couldn’t visit South Africa because of the Apartheid regime, about how South Africa was not independent like our country, Kenya, and how a man named Nelson Mandela was in prison for standing up against the government that was committing egregious human rights abuses against black South Africans.

I now wanted to travel to this country even more – it’s true what they say about forbidden fruit! I really never thought that the Apartheid regime in South Africa could impact my life in Kenya, but somehow, it did. I started researching and wanting to know more about this South Africa and this Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned for so many years.

A couple of years later, my dad, as an academic, miraculously managed to wangle an invite to South Africa, which was still under apartheid rule. He was somehow able to get a special waiver allowing him to enter the country – I don’t know how he managed it. I was green with envy, but gave him my list of what he should take in on my behalf whilst on his visit.

When he returned from South Africa, he was a changed man. It was like he was hypnotised; the way he talked about the country, about Mandela and the struggle, I could tell he was in love with a nation, the people and the country. He regaled me with stories of the remarkable people he met fighting the injustices and made us all want to be a part of the fight. He was even lucky enough to meet Winnie Mandela whilst on his trip and heard first-hand what the family was going through and what the struggle meant to them. I was now dying to go to this forbidden country.

Then in 1990 Nelson Mandela was released and the whole of Africa was overjoyed. The continent was left to wonder, what was next for South Africa? Would Nelson Mandela walk out of jail resentful and full hate for the white regime? Would he seek vengeance?

No. To all our amazement he chose a path of forgiveness. He taught us and the world over about forgiveness and the power of it. How many people can honestly say after 27 years of imprisonment they would be released and forgive their captors. It takes a person of great character, strength and wisdom to do that, and that’s why there are very few people like him in the world.

In 1994 Mandela was voted the first black president of South Africa. My shackles of not being allowed to visit the country were removed and indeed my wish came true, I was able to finally visit South Africa, under the rule of Nelson Mandela, for the first time, with my mum, in 1994. I completely understood the euphoria my dad had with the country. It was everything he had told me and more.

Nelson Mandela for me as an African symbolises so many things: principles, dignity, strength, hope, courage, good honest leadership, a leader who knows when its time to hang up the boots and who puts the welfare of their people first. He is the type of leader Africa needs and yearns for.

On a personal level though, I challenge each of you to have a Nelson Mandela moment. Every time someone irritates you, remember this: a man who was imprisoned for 27 years forgave his captors, so in context, it is likely your issue is rather small, and yes, you can forgive them – it is liberating and powerful to do so.

Please do have a Nelson Mandela Moment!!!!!

Happy Nelson Mandela International Day