Poignant: Robert Trew at Nelson Mandela’s cell on Robben Island. *Photo supplied
Poignant: Robert Trew at Nelson Mandela’s cell on Robben Island. *Photo supplied

It was 1984 or 1985 when the late great Dr. Clarence Maxwell announced in a school assembly the birth of ‘Mandela’ Fubler, the new son to our biology teacher Mr. Glen Fubler.

‘Mandela’? What is a ‘Mandela’? Mr. Fubler ‘goin’ back to Africa’ on us? Clean-cut, soft-spoken Mr. Fubler? What does he know about ‘Africa’ and what on earth is a ‘Mandela’? Mr. Fubler ain’t no revolutionary! 

It would take me leaving the mostly-black Berkeley Institute and going away to a mostly-white boarding school before I would hear about this ‘Mandela’ again.

At Albert College in Canada I would be encouraged to read Time magazine to prepare for the civics class discussions.

Reading this weekly news magazine exposed me to what was happening in the wider world.

It was 1986 and the hot story at the time was the government-imposed ‘State of Emergency’ in South Africa. It was shocking to hear that there was a country where black people were forced to live behind barbwire fences, were told where to live and work and could not vote in their own country. In fact they were not fully-fledged citizens at all. They were oppressed and young people like me were being shot on sight for fighting for equal rights in their own country. My biggest concern at the time was bikes, parties and girls. 

Their leaders in the underground African National Congress (ANC) had been jailed since 1964 and sentenced to life for treason. By 1986 they had already spent 22 years in jail. I was only 17 years at the time so the thought of being separated from my family for a duration longer than my lifetime impacted me greatly. 

Their most well-known leader was Nelson Mandela. He had actually been incarcerated since 1963. He would not be freed until he had spent 27 years behind bars.

Mr. Mandela’s story is well-known to most people and especially now because of his passing. The man was respected, admired and idolized. He is the father of modern-day South Africa. However, Mr. Mandela, never one for accolades, always insisted that what has been achieved is due to the contributions of thousands and not him alone. He is simply a humble servant of the people. 

From the ashes of Apartheid there is now a free and democratic society. Sure there are problems. There are problems around the globe. Once an older white South African lamented how ‘terrible’ the crime is now and ‘how the country is going down the toilet’.

In response I sarcastically asked her if she thought it was better before and would like to return to ‘those good ole days’? I pointed out that you can’t treat people like animals for 300 years, ‘free them’ and expect utopia. It will take generations to reverse the psychological damage inflicted on not only the black but also white South Africans. 

For me, Mandela’s greatest legacy will be how he inspired ordinary people to expect the possible and strive for the impossible. In our own community we’ve fought for worker’s rights, universal adult suffrage and a ‘New Bermuda’.

We went on strike, we rioted, we wrote letters, canvassed, attended rallies, meetings and Town Halls. We ‘revolted’ in our own way. People are trying to make tomorrow a better world for their children and grandchildren. This is what Nelson Mandela stood for. To end this tribute, I would like to acknowledge a Bermudian who was there when my ‘Mandela’ journey started; a quiet, soft-spoken biology teacher in Pembroke. (I think he finally buried that Yahama V80 he’s been riding since I was at The Berkeley!)

 Thank you, Mr Fubler. Thank you for your work in the Bermuda Anti-Apartheid Movement back in the 70s and 80s. Thank you for the courage it must have taken to be financially responsible for a family and taking a very public, anti-establishment position. (I smile at the tributes coming in from the old friends of Thatcher and Reagan, people who called Mandela a terrorist and fought to the end against sanctions.) 

What a risk you were taking. Thanks to all Bermudians who helped. Thank you for Beyond Barriers and Imagine. I remember you being present at the march on the US Consulate before the Iraq War. Where there is peaceful change and a call for reconciliation, you are usually at the front of the pack. 

Mr. Glen Fubler, you are an inspiration for my generation and others to come. You, as Mr. Mandela, have shown us how it all begins with appealing to the common humanity of the people. 

In closing, I would like to quote a tribute I received from a Jewish-Canadian friend of mine on the passing of Mr. Mandela:  “He is still my hero and role model. No one else has had such a significant impact on my personal outlook and behaviours. 

If we had 10 people like him in the right places, we would have world peace. May his soul live in us for all eternity.