I’ve just read the news that Nelson Mandela has died, at the fine age of 95, and felt a very bizarre flood of emotions. We’ve seen this sad day coming through numerous reports of the former South African president’s ill health, yet I never considered just how much it would hit me – and, I’m sure, the entire world – when his time was finally up. Almost like a form of personal grief but for a man I’ve never met. I’m sure part of this is due to the not wholly undeserved hero-worship which has built up around Mandela in recent years, though I’m certain I would consider him a personal hero regardless of his image in the media.
From my studies of South Africa in Advanced Higher History last year I became enthralled by his consistent courage opposing Apartheid; but, I would argue, this is not what made Mandela special. History is littered with freedom-fighters who fought for and won their causes. Why Mandela stands above these people and became such a shining figure in human history is that, after decades of persecution and oppression by the hideous Apartheid regime, he forgave. Under his presidency there was no retribution or revenge of the like which has torn many other African nations apart following the horrors of colonialism; the groundbreaking policy of truth and reconciliation he oversaw, though not undeserving of criticism, in my opinion saved South Africa from the brink of what must have seemed an inevitable, bloody civil war. I’m loath to deify anyone but there’s no word for Mandela’s capacity to forgive other than superhuman.
I hope this example can continue to inspire South Africans – and, indeed, the world – long after he’s gone. I’m aware there were fears that Mandela served as a symbolic father figure holding the nation together but I’m confident that his legacy can go on if we have the courage to not give in to the temptation to seek revenge and intolerance. Quotes from the great man will be flying around all over the place right now but one which particularly speaks to me is:
“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.”
Farewell, Madiba. All across the world you will be mourned and, most importantly, you will be remembered.