barbara-howard_web.jpgMy heart hurt, as did millions of others, when I heard that Nelson Mandela had finally passed.  We expected it for many months but it was still a shock.  Madiba was gone.

Madiba was Mandela’s clan name. I learned to call him that when a white South African opened a deliciously chic restaurant on South Beach and lovingly named it “Madiba’s.”  I loved it so much I celebrated my 64th birthday there.  The owner and the others – all white – who belonged to a local South African organization loved Madiba, the man and the restaurant.

In South Africa, under apartheid, they never would have been legally allowed to mingle with me and other blacks. A South African comedian mused that his birth was a crime because the love and subsequent marriage between his white father and black mother was illegal.

I was blessed with the opportunity to travel to South Africa in 2011 with then Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll and Enterprise Florida which organized a trade mission for Florida’s small business owners.  As part of the mission, we stood inside the tiny cell on Robben Island in which Mandela was forced to live for several years.

We also visited his former home in the very poor township of Alexandra in the Gauteng province in Johannesburg.  Unfortunately, we were unable to meet with Mandela due to his illness. But, everywhere we went, we saw the results of his vision of a free and democratic South Africa: whites and blacks mingling in peace and harmony under a majority black elected Parliament.

I remember when it seemed as if Mandela would never be released from prison and entertainers – both black and white – sang about his plight and the horrors of apartheid – the system of racial “apartness.”

We all celebrated when he was released and elected president of South Africa.  It was a long time coming but it couldn’t have happened to a nicer person.  I was truly blessed to have been able to come as close to him as I did. And for that I’m grateful.

There will never be another Mandela.  He was one of a kind.  And the world is much better for his life.  He was an angel sent by God.

I remember when then Miami Commissioner Miriam Alonso started a firestorm when she refused to sign a proclamation initiated by then Commissioner Miller Dawson honoring

Mandela when he came to Miami Beach.  It caused a racial divide and created a long and unpleasant boycott.

To add insult to injury, then Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez and other Cuban Americans blasted Mandela for praising Fidel Castro because, when the West, especially the United States and the United Kingdom, virtually ignored him, Castro supported him.

Eventually, because of the persistence of South African and American entertainers and organizations clamoring for his release, Mandela became a free man.

God blessed his spirit with love and forgiveness. It was his spirit of reconciliation that created a new South Africa and a new mixing of the black and white races.

His work is done and now God has called his child home.  And even though I never got a chance to see him face to face, I could feel his spirit in South Africa.  Again, I’m extremely grateful.

Thank you, Madiba. We pass this way but once.

*Barbara Howard is a political consultant, radio host and commentator and motivational speaker. She is Florida State chairwoman for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and Trade & Travel goodwill ambassador to Kenya. She may be reached at