Monday, December 9, 2013

Nelson Mandela - Champion of Equality and Reconciliation

Nelson Mandela passed away at the age of 95 last week, leaving behind one of the greatest legacies of any human being from our lifetime. His courage and forward thinking led him from difficult revolutionary times in the middle of the last century all the way to becoming President of South Africa and ultimately being credited with the downfall of the Apartheid era, which ushered in the era of growth and prosperity South Africa has continued to join. Instead of listing the ways in which Mr. Mandela changed the world and the achievements he accomplished, one would have a simpler task of listing the things he did not do.

Mandela had a place in the opposition to Apartheid racism as early as the 1940s, when he began being active in the African National Congress Youth League. His law studies at the University of Witwatersrand introduced him to many liberal-minded students from all over the world, grounding him in a global perspective that would serve him going forward over the next several decades.

In 1953, Mandela cofounded the first African-run law firm in the nation, Mandela and Tambo. Representing blacks in what were typically police brutality cases, Mandela and Tambo faced much backlash from the white community, and the police force. A decade later, after unsuccessful protests, arrests, and other difficult obstacles, Mandela was arrested for the last time and sentenced to life in prison for being a violent, communist antagonist who wanted to overthrow the government. He was imprisoned on Robben Island until 1982, under miserable conditions, and then transferred to Pollsmoor Prison, where he remained until 1988. Finally, while recovering from tuberculosis he contracted due to conditions in prison, Mandela was released in 1990.

What happened afterwards cemented Mandela’s legacy: Mandela emerged from prison with no trace of anger or hatred towards his captors. Instead, he moved forward with his visions for a desegregated South Africa, beginning talks with those in power and working towards a brighter future. That future came in 1994, when, after a long and hard-fought campaign by the ANC, Nelson Mandela became the first black president of South Africa, as well as the first president ever elected through a wholly democratic process. Reconciliation was a major part of this transition, and Mandela served as a true role model for the nation as a whole as it evolved from a oppresive minority rule to a multicultural democracy.

After retiring from politics years later, Mandela continued to serve as an activist and philanthropist, as well as a beacon of hope for other countries still struggling with oppressive governments. After his death last Thursday, the outpouring from around the world indicates that Mandela truly had a profound effect on not just South Africa, but the entire world. His efforts to spurn negativity and hate and to promote equality for all will not only be remembered, but advanced in his memory, certainly for decades to come.

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