It's not like Caribbean – or global – netizens haven't been preparing themselves for news of Nelson Mandela's death. The former South African president and anti-apartheid activist was, after all, 95 years old and in poor health, having been hospitalised several times this year for recurring respiratory infections. Still, the announcement, when it came late yesterday, dealt a hard blow. Regional bloggers and social media users shared their thoughts about the passing of one of the world's most enduring icons of peaceful resistance.
Bloggers, for the most part, seemed lost for words, preferring – at least for the moment – to share news reports or quote official statements about Mandela's passing. Guyana's Propaganda Press republished excerpts from President Jacob Zuma's address to the people of South Africa, along with a short biography of Mandela, while The Bajan Reporter posted a tribute to the late president by former Commonwealth Secretary General Sir Shridath Ramphal.
The majority of Caribbean netizens chose to share their reactions on Facebook and Twitter. Raynier Maharaj, a member of the Trinidadian diaspora and a journalist, commented on Facebook:
OK, if it seems I am dwelling on Mandela's passing, it is because it means a whole lot to me. Of all the ‘famous’ people I have met in my life — and this includes the Queen and the Dalai Lama — meeting Nelson Mandela was one of the greatest privileges in my life. He was the epitome of dignity and grace.
Another Trinidadian journalist, Vernon O'Reilly Ramesar, noted:
A testament to his importance that even the US media break into programming to announce the passing of Nelson Mandela.
Facebook user Skye Hernandez was saddened to hear of his death:
I feel strangely sad at the news of Madiba's passing. He has finally gone to his rest and that is surely a good thing. But his story and South Africa's have been so inspiring, sometimes so vexing, always riveting. He's been with us for all of our lives. Travel well, Nelson Mandela.
Franz Gillezeau suggested that people:
Mourn the man, but remember to celebrate the legend.
Facebook was also filled with newly uploaded photo albums chronicling Mandela's regional visits – this one, courtesy the Jamaica Information Service, of his visit to the island in the early 1990s, and this one, by Amber Media Productions, of his 2004 visit to Trinidad and Tobago.
On flickr, Georgia Popplewell posted a photo of Mandela, noting:
I fear it will be a long time before we see another leader of his calibre again. Farewell, dear Madiba. #Mandela
Not everyone agreed with this assessment, however. Over at the Cuban diaspora blog babalu, drillanwr wrote:
History will remember his life, to be sure.
While I appreciate and respect Nelson Mandela's struggles and his being a political prisoner within his own country for a large part of his life, I am not unaware of his post-prison political ideology and all the friendships he held with some of the world's nastiest leaders.
In a follow-up post at the same blog, Carlos Eire suggested that:
Mandela's sainthood falls short of universal acclaim, especially among Cubans. While he dedicated himself to a noble and righteous cause – ending discrimination against black Africans in South Africa – Mandela was not at all opposed to employing violence as a means for his cause. Worse than that, he expressed nothing but admiration for Fidel Castro and his noxiously racist tyranny, and never stopped singing Fidel’s praises.
In striking contrast, Capitol Hill Cubans shared this perspective:
Nelson Mandela is no longer physically among us, but his legacy of sacrifice, perseverance and freedom will endure forever.
Despite first espousing violence during the early days of his activism, Mandela's life journey demonstrates the transformational power of peaceful, civil disobedience.
His passing is also a reminder of the sacrifice of the world's historic political prisoners, such as Cuba's Eusebio Penalver Mazorra, the longest serving political prisoner of African descent in modern history, having served 28-years. Sadly, Penalver passed in 2006, without seeing his beloved homeland free.
Along with former Czech leader Vaclav Havel, Mandela is the ultimate representation of a political prisoner-turned-freely elected leader. From Cuba to North Korea, his extraordinary life gives endless hope to the democratic aspirations of dissidents, political prisoners and activists throughout the world.
Rest in peace and freedom.
Twitter users – world-wide – have been using the hashtags #mandela #death to offer their condolences. The Caribbean blogosphere will undoubtedly have much more to say about Nelson Mandela and his legacy once the reality of his death sinks in; the GV Caribbean team will provide updates accordingly.