If ever there was a political leader worthy of profound admiration and thanks, it was former South African President Nelson Mandela, who died Thursday at age 95.
Mandela rose to prominence in his home nation as a vocal activist fighting the evils of apartheid, which for decades poisoned South Africa’s standing in the world.
For his defiance, Mandela was sentenced to life in prison in 1964. He became a world symbol during the 27 years he was confined for his belief that black South Africans should have the same rights as white South Africans.
While his time in jail demonstrated Mandela’s commitment to his convictions on racial equality, it was his actions upon his release that displayed his true greatness.
He was freed in 1990 on the order of then-South African President F.W. de Klerk, who was courageously leading his country away from its racist policies. Mandela’s release set in motion his inevitable election as the nation’s first black president 4 years later.
He could have been bitter and vindictive. It would have been only human, sad to say.
But instead, Mandela chose to move the country forward.
He spent the next 4 years as president attempting to unify his nation.
He argued for reconciliation instead of retribution, all while picking apart the racist systems of government that had existed in South Africa for decades.
While he left office in 1999, Mandela remained as South Africa’s iconic senior statesman and a global symbol for racial reconciliation.
His death in his Johannesburg home was no surprise, given his age and his long illness. But it was a sad, sad day just the same.
South African President Jacob Zuma said in a state television address, it was “... a moment of our deepest sorrow. Our nation has lost its greatest son.”
It has indeed, and the world has lost one of its greatest, most inspiring and visionary leaders.
In the coming days, there will be much sorrow expressed at his passing. We suspect Mandela would counsel us to spare the tears and continue the difficult and necessary work of reconciliation.
He never took the easy or selfish or expedient path, and he never lost sight of what was right for mankind. Neither should we.