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Nelson Mandela – The most recognized man alive

Filed under: International News,Latest News,Politics |
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Nelson Mandela holds up his clenched fist in triumph the day after his release from prison in 1990 after 27 years at the age of 72. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

Nelson Mandela holds up his clenched fist in triumph the day after his release from prison in 1990 after 27 years at the age of 72. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

South African President Jacob Zuma is followed by Graca Machel, widow of former South African President Nelson Mandela, and Winnie Mandela, Nelson Mandela's ex-wife, as they pay their respects to Mandela lying in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria December 11, 2013. Credit: Reuters/Marco Longari/Pool

South African President Jacob Zuma is followed by Graca Machel, widow of former South African President Nelson Mandela, and Winnie Mandela, Nelson Mandela’s ex-wife, as they pay their respects to Mandela lying in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria December 11, 2013.
Credit: Reuters/Marco Longari/Pool

By Dr. Munyonzwe Hamalengwa

December 5th, 2015 will mark the second anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s death. This article is in honour of that great hero to millions of people around the world.

I want to concentrate on what Mandela meant in my life and Mandela’s unknown contribution to Canada’s legal and judicial profession. Of course the story is more complex but the following is my take on the situation. Other people will tell and have told their own stories on this same point.

I will also talk about what inspiration Mandela’s struggles as an individual can engender to all of us in times doubt.

The South African Sunday Times of February 9th, 2014 carried an article entitled, “Five facts about Nelson Mandela that you did not know”. Two of those facts caught my personal as well as my then lawyer’s attention.

While campaigning for president, Mandela makes sure to stop and thank members of the South African Defense Forces for their support during South Africa's first ever post-apartheid election in 1994. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

While campaigning for president, Mandela makes sure to stop and thank members of the South African Defense Forces for their support during South Africa’s first ever post-apartheid election in 1994. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

The first was that it took Mandela 50 years to qualify as a formal lawyer in the context of South African legal education. In his book, The Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela states that after finishing his law articles in 1951, but before he became a “fully fledged lawyer”, he and Oliver Tambo opened the first Black law firm in South Africa in 1952.

Mandela had failed his Bachelor of Laws examinations in 1948 due to a confluence of circumstances beyond the purview of this article. He needed to qualify by alternative means. But he never did until 50 years later in 1989.

According to the article in the afore-mentioned newspaper Mandela and Tambo had nevertheless established some kind of law practice in South Africa in 1949, before Mandela was formerly qualified to practice law. He eventually was qualified to practice law in Magistrate’s courts but could not accept briefs for higher courts. He handed over those briefs to senior lawyers who were always invariably white lawyers. Only 50 years later and while serving time in a South African jail was Mandela qualified as a senior lawyer. He did his law studies through correspondence.

The relevance of this piece of information for is simply this: if Mandela could take 50 years to achieve his goal of becoming a lawyer under very difficult circumstances which included active political engagement, treason trials, family life and imprisonment for life, everyone with the Mandelan determination can set and achieve their goals perhaps in a relatively shorter time than he did. Imprisonment could not destroy that man. He never knew he would come out. There is hardly any bar to anyone’s future. You are not facing life imprisonment.

Mandela’s life and example influenced my own life. I first encountered Mandela in 1974 when I read his book, No Easy Walk to Freedom. That book sustained me when I myself was detained for political agitation in Zambia in 1976. I recount Mandela’s influence on me in my 1992 book entitled, Thoughts Are Free: Prison Experience and Reflections on Law and Politics in General (1992).

Nelson MandelaI have learnt a lot from Mandela’s single-minded pursuit of education (that unknown fact that you now know). Mandela emphasized the value of education throughout his life. He believed that it is the only avenue open to everybody that leads to an improved life, a life that can elevate anyone to transcend the circumstances of their births. I too believe in that. Every time I thought of Mandela, I woke up and wrote a few lines on my PhD Dissertation which I dedicated to Nelson Mandela and is now published as Getting Away with Impunity: International Criminal Law and the Prosecution of Apartheid Criminals (2015)

The second fact mentioned in the afore-mentioned newspaper article is that only a handful of Universities in the world honored Mandela with an Honorary Doctorate while he was in prison and one of these Universities was York University in Toronto, Canada. I can relate to this because I was initially solely and verifiably responsible for Mandela getting the Honorary Doctor of Laws at York University in 1989.

Mandela picked up the Degree at a ceremony at Toronto’s Queen’s Park in 1990 after his release from prison. I fully document how this happened in my book, Thoughts Are Free. This story is also reproduced in my publication, Giants of Justice: The Nelson Mandela International Award in the Pursuit of Justice, an initiative that I started in 2005 to try to create an international award, akin to the Noble Prize, but in Mandela’s honour and awarded annually to an individual who personifies the struggle for justice anywhere in the world. The initiative continues.

The Honorary Doctorate degree in Law given to Mandela by York University in 1989, the year I myself graduated from Osgoode Hall Law School of York University was because I had founded the Nelson Mandela Law Society at Osgoode Hall Law School in 1986, in my first year of Law School. I used that vehicle to get Mandela the award.

After I entered Law School, I researched as to whether there were any African, Black or Minority Law School -based organizations anywhere in Canada, that spoke to the interests, concerns and experiences of Black law students. To my utter shock and surprise, there were no Law School-based organizations that catered to the interests, concerns or experiences of Black Law School students anywhere in Canada. So I created the Nelson Mandela Law Society.

The genesis of the Nelson Mandela Law Society and its activities from 1986 to 1989 when I graduated from Law School are described in my book Thoughts are Free and the documents that propelled it are reproduced in the publication, Giants of Justice.

“The Nelson Mandela Law Society is part of the world-wide movement against the apartheid system of government in South Africa. It seeks to contribute to the struggle against apartheid by mobilizing legal, moral and political opinion within the Osgoode and York community as well as beyond through the organization of conferences, symposia, guest speakers and publications” read the main reason for establishing this organization.

Over the three years while I was in Law School, this organization helped get Mandela honoured by York University, it brought Albie Sachs (later to be a Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa) to speak at Osgoode Hall Law School, it brought David Lewis the General Secretary of the General Workers Union of South Africa to speak at Osgoode, organized a conference on the Final Days of Apartheid, as well as a conference on the Death Penalty at which apartheid was condemned and many other initiatives which are fully documented in the above-noted publications.

The Conference was attended by many lawyers including Earl Levy, at the time head of the Criminal Lawyers Association, Charles Roach, Yossi Schartz, David McRoberts (Ministry of the Attorney – General ) and many others. The papers of the conference are compiled in an unpublished manuscript which I have entitled, Political Halley’s Comet: The Death Penalty in Global Comparative Perspective. It has papers on Canada, India, Nigeria, South Africa, Jamaica, Grenada, Uganda, Nazi War criminals and others.

It is however, the cascading and osmotic influence or almost invisible albeit very powerful influences that Mandela engendered into the Legal and Judicial profession in Canada that is worthy celebrating. I want to take credit that Mandela’s invisible influence on the Canadian legal and judicial profession was channeled through me, verifiably.

Some of the original members of the Nelson Mandela Law Society went on to become judges and prominent lawyers in their own right and I hope that the Mandela influence is still with them. I want to single out a few individuals from the 1986-1989 period of the Nelson Mandela Law Society when I was its founding President.

The Dean of Osgoode Hall Law School, Dean James MacPherson who approved the awarding of the Honorary Doctor of Laws to Nelson Mandela, is a prominent Justice of the Ontario Court of Appeal where I hope his decisions are imbued and infused with a sense of the Mandelan sense of justice.

Justice Michael Tulloch, a fellow student from 1986 to 1989 and a member of the Nelson Mandela Law Society sits with Justice MacPherson at the Ontario Court of Appeal, being the first Black Judge to ever be appointed to the Ontario Court of Appeal in the history of Canada.

Justice Tulloch was elevated from the Superior Court of Justice. Another member of the Nelson Mandela Law Society is Justice Kofi Barnes who sits at the Superior Court of Justice after having been elevated from the Ontario Court of Justice. He is the first African-born Justice to be appointed in the history of Canada.

Yola Grant a well-known African Canadian lawyer was a member as were Yossi Schwartz of Roach Schwartz fame, Arlene Huggins, Reya Ali, and a number of others, some of who appear in the 1986 Osgoode Hall law School yearbook and reproduced in the publication Giants of Justice.

A full list of members is found in this booklet Another member is Lance Carey Talbot who is a prominent lawyer in Toronto and who began to write on the history of blacks in the law in Canada.

After I left Osgoode Hall Law School, Mark Warner took over from me as President of the Nelson Mandela Law Society and I detail briefly below how the Society evolved after I left.

Beyond these personalities and others whom I have not mentioned are the legal infrastructures the Nelson Mandela Law Society spurned. Two years after I graduated from law school, the name of the Society was changed to the Black Law Students Association of Canada (BLSAC) with branches throughout Canadian law schools.

The students in these branches then created the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers (CABL). Most black students in Canada now belong to BLSC and most black lawyers are members of CABL.

African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela holds up his medal and certificate after he was jointly awarded the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize with South African President F.W. de Klerk. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela holds up his medal and certificate after he was jointly awarded the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize with South African President F.W. de Klerk. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

The origins of these organizations go back to the Nelson Mandela Law Society. Justice Michael Tulloch once headed CABL before he became a Judge. Some members of CABL are very prominent lawyers in big law firms and it is hoped that they continue to be influenced by the Mandela sense of justice and they in their own way and capacity struggle for justice for the oppressed and the deserving.

Some of these lawyers and judges will continue to make just contributions to Canada’s legal and judicial systems. BLSAC and CABL hold annual and other conferences which continue to enrich the Canadian legal and judicial professions. These organizations continue to advocate on behalf of Black causes and legal reforms.

After law school, I went on to found or be a founding member of several institutions and organizations that have tried to impact positively the Canadian quotient of justice. I founded the Nelson Mandela Academy of Applied Studies in 1996, a paralegal studies program which produced a number of paralegals whom it is hoped are making waves in the legal system. ( See Juliet Young, “Nelson Mandela Academy Set to Produce Legal Entrepreneurs” Pride July 18-24, 1996, P. 4 and reproduced in Giants of Justice, p. 54. See also “Paralegal Students Graduate” Pride April 23-28, 1998).

The Board of Governors of the School and the professors at the school included a number of law professors, prominent lawyers and others who continue to impact the law in its various multi-facets. These included Prof. Alan Hutchinson of Osgoode Hall Law School, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, Justice Michael Tulloch, Davies Bagambiire, Joana Manafa, Kadir Baksh, Cecil Norman and others. For many years as well, I sponsored the “Law Award” given to a prominent person in the legal and allied professions annually by the African Canadian Achievement Awards presented by the Pride newspaper.

I was also one of the founding members of the African Canadian Legal Clinic (ACLC) whose aim was to engage in systematic litigation to abolish systemic discrimination in Canada, including principally in its legal and judicial systems. I was also one of the founding members of the Lawyers Against Apartheid, along with Charles Roach, Clayton Ruby, Irwin Cotler and others, whose aim was to engage in litigation against apartheid criminals.

The above is all partly Mandela’s creation, unconsciously. Now can you imagine if everybody wrote about how Mandela influenced them! Mandela will leave through the ages of time into perpetual eternity. I continue to salute you my Brother.
About Author

Dr. Munyonzwe Hamalengwa practiced law in Canada for twenty-five years.

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