The outpouring of world-wide respect for Nelson Mandela, the former leader of South Africa who passed away December 5 at the age of 95, is unprecedented in the world we live in today.
No one reading this editorial can even begin to imagine or comprehend the hardships he encountered during his long life: Here was a man who was born in 1918 (a year before John F. Kennedy’s birth), who grew up in a small tribal village in South Africa, whose father died when he was nine, and who then spent the prime of his adult life as a political prisoner for 27 years of a racist, apartheid regime — only to become the most admired and beloved figure on the world stage of this era.
Nelson Mandela was to South Africans what both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln were to our country: He liberated tens of millions of his people from tyranny and then set out to heal the wounds that decades of oppression had created. His famous statement, “Courageous people do not fear forgiveness for the sake of peace,” encapsulated the same feelings Lincoln espoused for the defeated South as the Civil War neared its conclusion: “With malice toward none, with charity for all….”
Mandela understood, as only someone who has endured what he endured could understand, that we must throw off not only the physical chains that bind us, but the emotional chains of hatred and retribution which prevent people from moving forward to a better and brighter future both for themselves and future generations.
Mandela’s positive influence upon not only his own people, but also upon peoples across the globe, is a testament to the power each of us has to bring about change for the better, whether it be in our nation, our state, our community, or even our personal lives.
Nelson Mandela was just an ordinary man who committed himself to accomplishing extraordinary things. Hopefully, his legacy will inspire all of us to aspire, in the words of Lincoln, to bring forward “the better angels of our nature.”