Mandela’s Freedom in Virtual Worlds
“The world needs symbols. The world needs to highlight the best values we can find in certain human beings. And we have them as a reference of what we would like to be. Mandela is one of those”, says Graca Marcel (his wife) who shares his life. On 18 July 2008, the world’s ‘Madiba’ turns 90 and South Africans unite anew with each other and with the world to celebrate the day in flair. Like every year, millions of Africans will text message good-will messages to Mandela, or call into radio stations, or post on their blogs, or find a meaningful way to simply honor him.
But tomorrow will be far more than a worldwide birthday celebration; it is ultimately a time of reflection about the values that he represents – undefinable in its influence to (still) move people to do what is just and humble – the “right thing”. He is a person shaped by Africa, saying about himself: “I am what I am, both as a result of people who respected me and helped me, and of those who did not respect me and treated me badly”. We think of other political leaders in the world that are simply unable to respond with grace and wisdom in the face of adversity, and often feed a climate of collective distrust and violence from their own personal fear.
In 2007, when Uthango entered Second Life (R), we set the goal for ourselves to develop a virtual Robben Island in-world. This space will represent some of the history and the values of Nelson Mandela’s struggle and victory, and it has since become a symbol of our own struggle in virtual worlds (in no way meant to even slightly compare!). “Robben Island” would be our simple way of contributing to a global consciousness of, and conversation about, the profound equality of human beings. A space for intericultural dialogue together with intended storytelling at the ‘kraal’ at Virtual Africa.
How DO we measure the value of people? The man we honor, said once: “We accord a person dignity by assuming that they are good, that they share the human qualities we ascribe to ourselves”. For a variety of reasons, we have not been able to (yet) build the Robben Island that we see each day in our actual Cape Town, here in South Africa. The place of which Mandela wrote, “I see it as a celebration of the struggle and a symbol of the finest qualities of the human spirit…” However, we HAVE seen the people living in virtual worlds that carry with them the very values that Nelson Mandela defends, the greatest of this being: FREEDOM
On 11 February 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from the Victor Verster prison, after a life of 27 years behind walls. He walked “the long road to freedom” (as described in his book with the same title) and he “learned that courage was not the absence of fear, the the triumph over it…”
When we created our first content for our first Uthango office in Second Life, at Sunset Commerce, it was a poster of Nelson Mandela – with reference to freedom not coming easy. This has indeed been the experiences that we have lived, and seen in our part of the world, because we, Africans – served by our organization – are unlike popular belief not truly free yet. We are on the road to it, and the gates have been opened, but like too many people trapped in poverty, our people are still economically jailed. Therefore, for Uthango, the most powerful phrase from Mandela’s wise mind remains: “Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a human right, the right to dignity and a decent human life”. We are not “a charity”, we are advocates for justice and human dignity.
We are in Second Life as part of our own journey to continue the search for freedom that was continued by Nelson Mandela (and millions before him). In virtual worlds, we have found freedom of expression, but have also seen it silenced. We have lived freedom of association, but have also seen it desecrated. We have dabbled with the free market and virtual economy, and also felt its unfortunate global limitations.
Tomorrow, we will have a MULTI-SIM celebration with a few main events in Second Life to reflect on the 90 years of Mandela”s life. We plan to take pictures and send it on to his office here in South Africa afterwards! And share with him ‘virtual worlds’… We invite you all to join us in Secondlife tomorrow (18 July) at VIRTUAL AFRICA, ROBBEN ISLAND, DEJAVU ISLES, IRIE VIBES and SAMINAKA for African-flavored parties! The Second Life community has the opportunity to jointly create an entire month of events and tributes (including builds and artwork) from 18 July 2008 to 18 August 2008. We would appreciate your participation!
Uthango plans to publish a unique “Second Life MADIBA TRIBUTE” virtual booklet. As part of the activities, a generous land owner donated L$200 000 specifically for the purpose of rewarding one of the contributions to this publication. Answer the following question truthfully in 5 sentences or less: “Where were you when Mandela was released from prison in 1990?” and entry your submission on the clip board at Robben Island. Everyone who enters, will be considered for publication and the three judges’ decision on rewarding one entry will be final.
In short, you are hereby invited to come party with our DJs at any of the venues, to make your sim part of a massive treasure hunt dedicated to Nelson Mandela (IM Tamsin Barzane inworld) or donate directly to his foundation and text a message here. Your support for African content creation in virtual worlds is appreciated!
Make sure you visit Uthango Social Investments in Second Life tomorrow, or soon after. We are more free since Second Life (R) than before it… We believe that virtual worlds, and similar high-end technologies that tap into social networks hold the key to addressing digital divide. Combined with mobile technologies, infrastructure, media expertise, appropriate applications and above all, dedicated pioneers, we are with our feet still firmly on a road to socio-economic freedom and digital equality.
Also Read (later blog entry): Nelson Mandela has always been Free!
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