Nelson Mandela was a father, husband, lawyer, scholar, and President but most importantly, a revolutionary determined to set his nation free. And that he did. The great warrior of South Africa had his sunset last night at his home outside of Johannesburg after many years of declining health. Madiba, his tribal name, bequeaths the world a legacy of courage, strength, wisdom and humanity. His name stands among the giants of recorded history and his works reflect the best of the human spirit.
This man of grace and determination, who did not let the circumstances of his wrongful imprisonment extinguish his thirst for freedom, is the father of a free South Africa. We were blessed to witness in our lifetime the dignified, persistent and unapologetic demand for freedom by this brave African who stood his ground while on trial and when confined to a cell in prison on Robben Island. It is still moving to see the video of an aged Mandela walking past the gates and into freedom after spending much of his adult life behind bars. The news of his passing has prompted tears throughout the world for a man who was selfless in the love of his country and fellow man. That he harbored no ill will or resentment toward a white, murderous minority faction is a testament to his divine purpose. Nelson Mandela was one of many strong Black revolutionaries for freedom in South Africa, but it was his presence that defined the anti-apartheid struggle and it was his larger than life persona that drew the world’s attention and admiration.
In this time of reflection on the life of Nelson Mandela, we are reminded that the United States was on the wrong side of history. It does not escape our memory that when an international movement against apartheid took shape, our government, namely the Reagan administration, put forth a policy of “constructive engagement” that reinforced the apartheid regime. However, many Americans challenged our government and corporations operating in South Africa to take a stand for that nation’s Black majority. In the United States, college students on campuses made their voices heard on behalf of Black South Africans and Randall Robinson shaped TransAfrica into a powerful voice for the anti-apartheid movement. The inspiration for many of us was the solitary figure in a jail cell across the Atlantic. It was the courage of Nelson Mandela that motivated so many around the world to demand the end of apartheid.
Though he was South African, Nelson Mandela was a citizen of the world. He was welcomed and adored in Harlem and Chicago with the same intensity as he was embraced in Port Elizabeth and East London in his native land. He was truly a global figure who commanded the respect of world leaders and the common citizen, and saw both as equals. Mr. Mandela spoke truth to power, even taking on other African leaders for their ethical failings and criticizing U.S. policy when he deemed it contrary to the interests of the people. The world was his platform and he spoke loudly and with conviction.
In the days to come tributes will pour in to the Mandela family from throughout the world. They already have. We would do well to remember that however nice the recollections of Mr. Mandela’s life and praise for his good works and acknowledgement of his nation-building, the most important way to honor him is to be a beacon for freedom and justice. If this one man can endure almost three decades of confinement, watch the horrors inflicted upon his people and maintain his focus and preserve his dignity, what are we doing to change our nation?
Our prayers are with the Mandela family and the people of South Africa during this time. Though we share the somberness of the passing of this great warrior, we also celebrate his life and give thanks for his leadership. God bless you comrade Mandela.