Lara Kajs | 10 December 2013 |
Nelson Mandela was a rock and inspiration, and he left behind a legacy for all humanity. History will record that Mandela was the first black South African to become President in the first democratic election…ever. He is remembered lovingly by South Africans as the “Father of the Nation.” And for the rest of us…well, we have all looked on and remembered how his life impacted our lives. Many human rights advocates have said, “I got involved because of Mandela.”
But Mandela’s greatness was not an easy path. His vigilant fight against apartheid led to a life sentence of imprisonment of which he spent 27 years behind bars – 19 on Robben Island, and the rest in Pollsmoor Prison and Victor Verster Prison. His eight-by-seven cement block cell became the chains that bound him, but he did not allow his repression to harden him. Separated from other prisoners, his only contact with the outside world was one visit and one letter every six months.
For most people, getting a life sentence for trying to encourage positive change would make them very bitter, but not for Mandela. When he was released in 1990, he did not promote a sentiment of revenge but rather offered forgiveness and reconciliation.
1994 saw the end of apartheid and the emergence of President Mandela. Over the next 19 years, he became a champion for human rights. The Nelson Mandela Foundation continues to support humanitarian work on issues including poverty and HIV/AIDS.
Nearly fifty years ago, at his trial, Nelson Mandela stood firm in his conviction saying, “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal that I hoped to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” The rest of his life was a testament to his determination.
Although he had been labeled a Marxist and a terrorist, Nelson Mandela’s purpose was to help the people of South Africa and as a result, he helped the world. The 1994 Nobel Peace Prize and the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom are just two of the over 250 honors bestowed on Nelson Mandela.
After learning of his death, a senior foreign diplomat said of Nelson Mandela, “He is the hero of the planet.” Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Mandela “a giant” and the Dean of Westminster wrote, “He was an iconic figure who changed irrevocably the course of history in his country and the African continent and who changed the world’s attitude to issues of equality and human justice.” President Barack Obama said, “We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again.”
It seems so appropriate that the memorial service honoring Nelson Mandela is celebrated on Human Rights Day. The people of South Africa and around the world tuned in to watch as dignitaries from many nations paid respect to this great, great man.
On December 5, 2013, one of the greatest leaders, humanitarians, and human rights advocates – one of the world’s greatest humans – died. His presence will be missed and the lives he touched with his work and his example will be forever changed. For those lucky enough to have shared the planet with Madiba…let them say…” We lived in the time of Mandela.”
Photo Credit: Nelson Mandela at the UNGA in New York by UN Photo – Licensed under cc 2.0
Lara Kajs | 10 December 2013 |