Nelson Mandela was a great man whose life and work was a blessing to humanity. I say that even as I recognize it took me longer than it should have to realize it. Like a lot of campus conservative types in the mid-1980s, I knew little about Mandela while I was in college, but never let that stop me from having a lot of opinions about him, South Africa, and the ANC, and also making a lot of predictions about the future that sound pretty idiotic in retrospect. Truth is, he surprised his enemies and not a few of his friends by his post-Robben Island career. All I can say is that I am delighted to have been proven wrong so decisively by a man who left prison as he entered it, determined to free his people, but then set an example for all people of the politics of racial harmony. His actions and statements after his release transcended mere tolerance, challenging us to build a world where all work together respecting every fellow human being.
Did he completely succeed in translating his vision into reality? Is South Africa a utopia of racial transcendence? Certainly not. Human frailty being what it is, we all still have a lot of work to do everywhere. But in our efforts to do that work, we can all profit from the legacy of words and actions that Mandela has bequeathed to us.
In my faith tradition, we have a word for people whose exemplary lives inspire us to greater good. We call them saints. I use the term here carefully, not wanting to put off secularists, or to provoke reactions from my more religious brothers and sisters. Nevertheless, the ecclesiological analogy is important as we consider the political world. Saints are great not only because of what they believe, but because of what they do with that belief. They do not merely proclaim their personal purity and leave the world to burn. They see their own virtue not as a secret they can hoard and smugly lord over others, but as a responsibility, a trust to be put to use here on earth. Their works, their example, offer a spark of the Divine. That spark can and should kindle in every open heart a redoubled desire to do better, to be better, and to embrace our common human responsibilities.
Nelson Mandela is free from all care now. It is up to us to continue the work he began. His legacy inspires us, offering strength for the challenges to come.
Until yesterday, there was one living person on the planet who I would have really loved to have met, and now he is gone to the ages.
He is a beyond a true hero and will his contributions to reconciliation and peace will only grow with the decades.
Nelson Mandela, with the possible exception of Winston Churchill, has been the most positively transformational figure of the past 100 years. The impact of his courage, spirit, faith, persistence, forgiveness, intelligence, and leadership in bringing South Africa out of the depths of apartheid cannot be overstated. But his passing should invite more scrutiny as to how South Africa and its neighbors are faring today. Perhaps Mandela’s absence can help the rest of us revisit the unacceptable level of political, economic and civil discourse that is South Africa today, without the distraction his life has provided.
For the indices of income inequality, government integrity and transparency, economic growth, health care and cultural progress, the record is abysmal. For literacy, education, and racial integration the record is a little better. Here are some 21st century vignettes from my own family’s experience in the country:
- · My college sophomore daughter’s semester abroad at Grahamstown University in 2000-2001 was highlighted by her volunteering one day per week in the neighborhood township ; while the campus was modestly integrated, not a single white student joined her and most thought she was crazy to so “risk her life”;
- · At a November 2000 dinner with the white provost (a liberal) at Grahamstown University, we learned that more than 2/3 of his children and their friends (25-30 years old) had emigrated to UK, US, or Australia since l995.
- · A black taxi driver in Capetown told us he perceived his then six-year old black majority government no better than the previous apartheid, and even more corrupt;
- · My sister’s 2013 two-week training in Pretoria and Capetown of predominantly black hospital administrators in the basics of hospital finance yielded her perception of intelligent people with college degrees (and the most grateful students she has ever had) and not a clue of how to manage a hospital or the basics of health care finance.
While the world must be more patient than I am about a country emerging from such abject poverty and oppression for 85% of its citizenry (the Capetown townships occupying the medians of express highways are the most appalling living spaces I have ever seen), one cannot be optimistic about fifteen years of tenure by Mbeki and Zuma so unwilling to confront AIDs, tribal conflict, government ineptness and corruption, or any of the major economic challenges confronting them. And South Africa’s long term unwillingness to mitigate the murderous tyranny of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe is analogous to the Germans’ tolerance of Hitler after the spring of l944.
Given the rich natural resources and relatively advanced industrial development of this beautiful, haunted country, we should expect better. Then again, with no democratic tradition, undeveloped civic institutions, no uniform rule of law, too small a black middle class, inferior schools, not yet equality for women, legitimate government, little national pride, and no overarching commitment of the country’s black and white elites to fundamentally redistribute income widely, what can we expect?
Steve Morgan is President of Clean Energy Solutions, Inc., of Boston, MA
Some mention of Nelson Mandela’s daily prayer while in prison should be made.
He prayed the poem Invictus:
Out of the night that covers me
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud,
Under the bludgeons of chance.
My head is bloodied but unbowed.
In this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade;
Yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.
It matters not how straight the gate
How charged with punishment the scroll.
I am the master of my fate
I am the captain of my soul.
It is rare when God places one of his angels on this earth to bring about social change and spread love and peace in a land torn with hatred and war.
Thankful for the life of Nelson Mandela.
May you rest in peace…
Mandela, like Gandhi and King before him, taught us how forgiveness and humility can be the most potent forces for change and justice.
Nelson Mandela didn’t just change the world, he changed how we see the world.
At President Clinton’s first inauguration, I was at a dinner of 500+people.
At the end as we were leaving, I saw Mr Mandela standing alone.
Feeling the need to say something, I introduced myself and said whatever came to mind about his courage, sacrifice, and contributions to peace in South Africa.
His response I will never forget: He said ” It honors me that you would say that.”
At that point I was so in awe that he was there and I had met him.
A memory I will treasure.
The word “hero” is thrown around a great deal today; sometimes appropriately; sometimes to stroke some group or person for political gain.
This hero though, meets the definition of those willing to sacrifice to make the way for others, straight.
Nelson Mandela is THE modern day example of liberation without firing a shot.
He gave up a third of his life jailed as a criminal who committed no crime except to yearn to be free to be able to do as President Kennedy often noted to be, “the master of my own fate.”
You can incarcerate the man, but the ideal he stood for was freedom and liberty itself. It is a blessing to have lived during his time. His countrymen know that truth all too well.
His legacy is not only forgiveness but the challenge for all time that dreams are just not impossible to come true. He is a hero and a man for all seasons.
Raamie Barker is Senior Advisor to West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin
I am saddened that we lost a great political and spiritual general yesterday when President Nelson Mandela transitioned from earth to eternity.
In 1981, I remember as a sophomore at the University of Texas at Austin wearing my free Mandela t-shirt in an effort to support the oppressed leader in his struggle to bring equality to the masses of Black and Colored South Africans. As we protested with the hopes of encouraging our University and other American Corporations to withdraw their investments from a country that supported an apartheid system, it never occurred to me that our small efforts might have made a big difference.
Who would have thought that the then incarcerated political leader would one day be freed in spite of his unwillingness to compromise? Who would have thought that he would be like Joseph in the book of Genesis going from Robben Island Prison in 1990 to become the president of South Africa in 1994, just four years after his release from prison?
Like Jesus Christ, He taught us so much, he chose to forgive his oppressors, he chose to bless those who cursed him and he chose to do good to those who spitefully used him. His act of forgiveness has taught us that love is what heals a nation!
Thank you Madiba for the life, legacy and love you have bestowed on your nation and the world!
Dianne Jones McVay is a former Texas criminal court judge and Assistant U.S. Attorney
Warning: If you try to go to Walmart to pick up a half gallon of milk, you will soon realize your errand is not about the 2% milk.
Instead your journey is about the exploration of a wild, weird and wonderfully kitschy world where you will see things that will bend your conventional mind and make you whisper to yourself, “Gee, I could use that.” Followed by “and that too.” Or maybe, “Who thinks up these products?” Followed finally by “These prices can’t be beat.”
And you will soon realize that even though you walked into a Walmart that you have really entered the Hotel California.
That’s right. “You can check out any time you want (through self-service check out), but you can never leave.”