Former South African president and anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela died this week at the age of ninety-five – prompting a global outpouring of admiration for the iconic figure.
“He is a hero,” one of our founding editor’s South African friends noted, describing his death as “an end to a party of history.”
Mandela – who spent twenty-seven years of his life behind bars – was released from prison in 1990. Three years later he won the Nobel peace prize for his anti-apartheid efforts and five years he later was elected as the first black president of South Africa. One of the defining moments of his presidency – the 1995 Rugby World Cup – was depicted in the 2009 Clint Eastwood film Invictus.
Mandela’s struggle for equality inspired generations of Americans – including musician Paul Simon, who along with South African musicians like Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba and Ladysmith Black Mambazo was instrumental in bringing international pressure to bear on the apartheid issue.
“Mandela was one of the great leaders and teachers of the twentieth century,” Simon said. “He conceived a model for mortal enemies to overcome their hatred and find a way through compassion to rebuild a nation based on truth, justice and the power of forgiveness. His passing should reignite a worldwide effort for peace.”
After giving up the presidency, Mandela focused on Africa’s HIV/ AIDS epidemic and the global fight against poverty.
“Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural,” Mandela once said. “It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.”
He’s correct … and while we may disagree with him on the best way to overcome poverty, there’s no argument as to the purity of his intentions.
There’s also no disputing the challenge he leaves behind …
“Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great,” Mandela said during a 2005 speech. “You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.”
Mandela waged a lifelong struggle against a repressive government bent on taking liberty away from its people. His death is a reminder that all of us have an obligation to fight against such repression … wherever it may be found.