Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

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It’s difficult to come up with the right words when such an inspiring, heroic and influential person has left this world…

Nelson Mandela passed away on Thursday at the age of 95, but his global legacy lives on.  He was a Nobel Peace Prize winner, South Africa’s first Black and democratically-elected president and one of the world’s most well-known advocates for equality.  He “guided South Africa from the shackles of apartheid to multi-racial democracy and became an international icon of peace and reconciliation,” described the Chicago Tribune on December 6, 2013. Soon after it was announced that Mandela died, President Barack Obama said “He achieved more than could be expected of any man…we’ve lost of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings than any of us will share time with us on this earth…”

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” ~ Nelson Mandela

Watching the numerous documentaries that depict Mandela’s life, a scene from Who is Nelson Mandela? hosted by actress Lenora Crichlow is one of many outlooks that stand out. She visits Robben Island where Mandela resided for 18 of his 27-year imprisonment. She is led by a guide who was also a political prisoner and spent over six years of his sentence there. Mandela is the name, but it really brought home how many people his story and struggle represents,” said Crichlow, describing the extremely emotional experience.

Viewers of the doc see the extremely small cell where Mandela spent nearly 20 years, with only a pot for toileting and mere blankets on the floor to sleep on. It’s quite amazing that Mandela did some great work from such a claustrophobic, inhumane environment. He and his companions led what has been nicknamed “Nelson Mandela University” or “the university of the struggle”—“a school that trained [Black political prisoners sentenced by the apartheid regime] to look forward with optimism, to adhere to the ANC’s strong belief that South Africa belonged to all the people who lived in it, black and white together,” said award-winning journalist/editor Michael Parks (as quoted by USA Today’s William M. Welch) who covered stories on Mandela and South Africa.

“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy…Then he becomes your partner.” ~ Nelson Mandela

Another incredibly touching documentary is Miracle Rising: South Africa which highlights the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which was advocated by Mandela and other key South African public officials.

The TRC ran from 1995 to 2002 and was a restorative justice proceeding to address the apartheid human rights violations that occurred from 1960 to 1994. Witnesses and victims to these atrocities were invited to speak, and controversially those perpetrators who stepped forward to confess were granted amnesty in exchange for the truth. A spirit of open dialogue, acknowledgement of heinous acts and forgiveness were key aspects of the TRC so that South Africa could continue advancing harmony among all people.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu said, in the documentary, “We were greatly privileged to be part of an incredible process of healing.”

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” ~ Nelson Mandela

While no person is perfect—Mandela made his share of mistakes like we all do—there are some truly great teachers, role models and initiators of positive change. Mandela will be forever remembered as one of these great people, by those who worked alongside him for noble causes, by people and administrations around the world who have learned from his acts of democracy, discourse, acceptance and truth seeking, and also by those generations yet to come.