NELSON Mandela will be revered as the leader of the movement that freed those living under oppression in apartheid South Africa. But Mandela also freed the oppressors, allowing them to reclaim their humanity.
Mandela’s death Thursday at age 95 ended a life steeped in integrity, courage and grace. But he left a lifetime of work on behalf of racial harmony and social justice. View Mandela’s accomplishments in South Africa as a universal example of resilience, rebirth and reconciliation.
Mandela’s fight against white domination eventually cost him his freedom. When he was convicted in 1964, Mandela reiterated his resolve to fight injustice. He said:
“I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
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He spent the next 27 years confined to a small cell on the remote Robben Island. He drew on a deep well of courage to survive the isolation and showed compassion to his jailers even as they refused to let him attend the funeral of his mother and of a son. Mandela was the personification of grace. When he was released after decades in prison, he called for reconciliation, not revenge.
Memories of the bitter struggle against apartheid have been tempered by peace and a united South Africa. Mandela led the way.
President Obama is expected to travel to South Africa for Mandela’s funeral. Obama said, “We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. So it falls to us as best we can to forward the example that he set: to make decisions guided not by hate, but by love; to never discount the difference that one person can make; to strive for a future that is worthy of his sacrifice.”
That is the final lesson from the man young South Africans have grown up calling “Tata,” or father. And now rest “beloved Madiba.” A transformed nation, and humankind, owes you a debt of gratitude.