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Mandela’s character transformed South Africa


PRESIDENT MANDELA IS GONE, AND THE legacy he leaves behind is indescribable. I got to know about his passing through social media. I was saddened, but also remembered that Mandela had grown, he was 95 years old. He wouldn’t be with us forever.

As much as these are sad news, we must be thankful that we were blessed with such a character. His vision for an inclusive society transformed South Africa, from a country well-known for human rights abuses to a “Rainbow Nation” under the rule of law.

When I browsed Facebook and Twitter this morning, what struck me the most was the reaction to his passing across the globe. His death resonated across the oceans and continents – which highlighted how iconic he was. Fareed Zakaria, one of my favorite intellectuals updated his status on Facebook. This is what he said:

“Nelson Mandela’s greatest acts: No retribution, genuine forgiveness, and leaving office voluntarily. Africa’s George Washington.”

It’s Mandela’s character that made South Africa what it is today. His genuine forgiveness held the country together and led us to the creation of a “Rainbow Nation”. He recognized that we all need each other, no matter your race or your culture; we can all live together harmoniously.

I heard, again this morning, the speech he gave in 1990 in Cape Town after his release from jail. In that speech he pointed out that he had fought against white domination, and had fought against black domination. That he had cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.

He further pointed out that it is an ideal which he hoped to live for and to achieve.  But if needs be, it was an ideal for which he was prepared to die for.

It was a powerful speech – from a man who had spent 27 years in prison. No divisive rhetoric and no vengeance. It’s this type of leadership that sets him apart from other leaders of the 20th century. A conciliator who chose unity over reprisals.

I read an article by The Economist this morning about Mandela’s legacy. It was well written and well crafted. The main thing I found from that article was that Mandela was not a perfect person. That he, like anybody, made mistakes. But throughout the ups and downs in his life, the common denominator was that he had a sense of empathy and love. He even showed love to those who were very cruel to him. It’s hard to find such leaders today. To be honest with you, in the few years that I’ve lived on this earth I’ve never heard of any.

When we ponder about his life as a freedom fighter, we’ll realize that, perhaps we haven’t lived up to his ideals. That we’ve tended to forget the brutality he, along with many other anti-apartheid activists, had to endure so that you and I can live in a free society.

He leaves behind big challenges faced by South Africans today. A quarter of the population is unemployed, a quarter lives in poverty and racial tensions still exist. Madiba surely knew that all these problems would not be entirely resolved in his lifetime. That all he could do was show us all the right direction to move South Africa forward. He did that.

“Heroic though he was, he did not have the messianic powers some attributed to him, nor could others be expected to match his capacity to hold high principles, to live by them and to use his moral stature to such effect”, The Economist wrote today. An iconic man, who clearly forgave but never forgot. Let’s be thankful for all the lessons he gave to us. PM


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