Today is the perfect day to reflect on the life and teachings of Nelson Mandela. This reflection is made more poignant this year by his recent passing.
Mandela’s legacy also calls to mind the Y’s role in protecting dignity for all people – a community voice for social justice – for he, like so many global leaders, has a Y story. More than 60 years ago, Mandela boxed at what would become the Soweto YMCA in South Africa to stay fit and take his mind off the struggle for freedom from apartheid. He once said the walls of the facility “are drenched with sweet memories that will delight me for years.” The journey of the Soweto Y and the fight for equality and justice in South Africa are closely intertwined.
In 1976 a group of young people stood in front of a blackboard at the Soweto Y and wrote down plans for a student protest. This protest grew into the Soweto Uprising, a historical anti-apartheid protest that ended in bloodshed when several students were killed. Other young leaders in YMCAs and youth organizations in South Africa joined the cause, leading to the end of apartheid policies beginning in 1990.
Today, the Soweto YMCA gym interior has undergone recent improvements, though there are still remnants of the days when Mandela was a regular. A bracket on the wall which once held a punching bag that Mandela used is still there. A copy of a letter from Mandela is framed in the YMCA’s office, a testimony to the impact his experiences at the Y had on him. While the paintwork is new, and the machines are modern, the Soweto Y continues to be a community gathering place, nurturing the potential of future generations of global leaders.
Madiba, the clan name by which many South Africans call him, is a hero to the young men and women at the Soweto YMCA, across his home nation and around the world.
Rev. Sipho Sokhela, National General Secretary of YMCA South Africa, shared the following in tribute to Mandela: “We commit to pursue his values and ideals for our world, which he lived for and demonstrated his willingness to die for if necessary: that of a global village where equality and rights for all are ensured.”
For more information on the YMCA in South Africa, please visit: http://saymca.org.za/