December 5, 2013

Honoring the Memory of Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela passed away at the age of 95 following complications from a persistent lung infection. As the iconic leader of the African National Congress, his determination in the fight against apartheid inspired his followers to persevere until they had achieved victory. Today, millions around the world who are struggling for freedom are inspired anew by his example. But perhaps his greatest achievement may have been the spirit of reconciliation that he fostered after being elected President of South Africa.

Mandela became actively involved in the anti-apartheid movement and joined the African National Congress in 1942. For 20 years, he directed a campaign of defiance against the South African government and its racist policies. In 1994, Mandela was inaugurated as the country’s first black president.

For his activities opposing apartheid, he spent 27 years in prison, including 18 years at the notorious Robben Island facility. In No Future Without Forgiveness, Desmond Tutu wrote of that time, “Those twenty-seven years were the fires of the furnace that tempered his steel, that removed the dross. Perhaps without that suffering, he would have been less able to be as compassionate and magnanimous as he turned out to be. And that suffering on behalf of others gave him an authority and credibility that can be provided by nothing else in quite the same way.” His ability to forgive his tormentors was demonstrated during his inauguration when he invited his white jailer to attend as his honored guest. This attitude of forgiveness helped to transition the country peacefully to a democracy whose constitution protected the rights of all South Africans.

South Africa still has some distance to go to achieve full economic and political balance among its citizens. The first generation of South Africans who have grown up free of apartheid is now entering adulthood. The example set by Nelson Mandela will certainly serve as a powerful guide for how they will use their freedom to create their country’s future.

1 Comment
  • Rona Keen, December 6, 2013 Reply

    Whilst Mandela was in prison I helped the Anti Apartheid movement as best I could: fundraising, supporting boycotts, writing letters etc. One day I was doing a sponsored walk in the West of England to raise funds and (for once!) the quiet of the day led to a reflection of what it must be like to endure hard labour and be imprisoned for so many years. I couldn't see apartheid ending, at least not peacefully, and I didn't think the South African government would release Mandela to allow him to achieve anything useful. So I privately hoped that he would at least be released before he died, so he could spend his last days with his family in the country he loved. Looking back I can see we were, by comparison to my wishes, showered with such astonishing good fortune that I can hardly believe it! I witnessed the peaceful end of apartheid, Mandela as president and father of the rainbow nation, proper recognition of his greatness - and his final days just as I'd wished all those years ago. So much to be thankful for!

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