Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Remembering Mabida: He was a universal symbol of tolerance and hope

"I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear."  Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013.

We were all saddened by the news of the passing of Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first black president and an icon of peaceful resistance.

Mr. Mandela died at his home in the Johannesburg suburb of Houghton on Thursday night at age 95. News of his death spread quickly around the world through cable news networks like CNN, in social media such as Facebook and via the internet, and in the days since, there's been no shortage or tumult of remembrances. Mr. Mandela has been memorialized as an icon, a radical, a leader and a luminary.

Beloved by all, Mr. Mandela was a universal symbol of tolerance and hope, a man of great heart and compassion. Following his release prison after 27 years of incarceration, Mr. Mandela led South Africa through emancipation from white minority rule and he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

"Mr. Mandela's quest for freedom took him from the court of tribal royalty to the liberation underground to a prison rock quarry to the presidential suite of Africa's richest country," wrote The New York Times"And then, when his first term of office was up, unlike so many of the successful revolutionaries he regarded as kindred spirits, he declined a second term and cheerfully handed over power to an elected successor, the country still gnawed by crime, poverty, corruption and disease but a democracy, respected in the word and remarkably at peace."

In announcing Mr. Mandela's death to an entire nation, President Jacob Zuma of South Africa said: "Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our 
people have lost a father. His tireless struggle for freedom earned him the respect of the world. His humility, his compassion and his humanity earned him their love.

Regardless of our race, nationality or country of residence, Mr. Mandela will be remembered by many as the "world's kindly white-haired grandfather." His last public appearance was in 2010, when South Africa hosted football's World Cup.

World leaders across several continents were united in their praise of Mr. Mandela and their tributes were filled with superlatives.

• "A giant among men has passed away. This is as much India's loss as South Africa's." — Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, India.

• "A great light has gone out in the world. Nelson Mandela was a hero of our time." — Prime Minister David Cameron, Britain.

• "All of Canada mourns with the family of Nelson Mandela and the citizens of South Africa. The world has lost one of its great moral leaders." — Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

• "Today we say goodbye to a man who brought hope, a true hero who will continue to inspire us." — Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo, Belgium.

Here in the U.S., President Barack Obama reflected on Mr. Mandela's life by praising him as a man of courage and compassion. "Let us pause and give thanks for the fact that Nelson Mandela lived — a man who took history in his hands and bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice."

And, former U.S. President Bill Clinton noted that history will remember Mr. Mandela as a champion for human dignity and freedom, for peace and reconciliation. "All of us are living in a better world because of the life Madiba lived. He proved that there is a freedom in forgiving, that a big heart is better than a closed mind, and that life's real victories must be shared."

To have an understanding of Mr. Mandela's religious, spiritual and humanist worldview, one need only look to his 1994 autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, which profiled his early life, coming of age, education and 27 years in prison.

"The story told by Mandela's life is not one of infallible human beings and inevitable triumph. It is the story of a man who was willing to risk his own life for what he believed in, and who worked hard to lead the kind of life that would make the world a better place," said Mr. Obama.

Mr. Mandela was also praised by leaders of the religious community, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who like Mr. Mandela was a Nobel laureate and a towering figure in South Africa's struggle against apartheid. He said that Mr. Mandela "embodied our hopes and dreams, symbolized our enormous potential."

At the Vatican, Pope Francis praised "the steadfast commitment shown by Nelson Mandela in promoting the human dignity of all the nation's citizens."

In San Francisco, the Very Rev. Dr. Jane Shaw, Dean of Grace Cathedral, said that "it is appropriate to take a moment to thank God for his example and the profound influence for peace he life has had. ... We celebrate his life and will continue in his example to fight against institutionalized racism, poverty and inequality."

Praise also came from the streets from fellow South African citizens like Shadrack Motau, who accompanied Mr. Mandela on a tour of his Soweto neighborhood after his release from prison. He told The New York Times: "The man had so much humility. He treated everyone with respect and dignity, from statesmen to children."

By all accounts, Mr. Mandela loved being in the company of children. He spoke often of the importance that education played with shaping the world's youth. "Young people must take it upon themselves to ensure that they receive the highest education possible so that they can represent us well in the future as future leaders."

Those old enough to remember the struggle against apartheid have flocked for days to Mr. Mandela's home to pay tribute to South Africa's departed leader through means of joyful noise. 

"We should, while mourning, also sing at the top of our voices, dance and do whatever we want to do, to celebrate the life of this outstanding revolutionary who kept the spirit of freedom alive and led us to a new society," South African president Zuma said in a statement over the weekend. "As South Africans, we sing when we are happy, and we also sing when we are sad to make ourselves feel better. 

"Let us celebrate Madiba in this way, which we know best," Mr. Zuma added, referring to Mr. Mandela by his widely used clan name. "Let us sing for Madiba."

On Tuesday, in rain-soaked Soweto townshipPresident Obama, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and some of Mandela's grandchildren were among those who spoke during a four-hour memorial service honoring Mr. Mandela, held in the 95,000-capacity FNB Stadium (built for the 2010 World Cup) and attended by more than 100 heads of state and other dignitaries and celebrities. 

"It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailer as well; to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion and generosity and truth," Mr. Obama said in a stirring eulogy. "He changed laws, but he also changed hearts."

Worth reading for its comprehensive look at the life of Mr. Mandela is the 6,500-word obit which appeared in The New York Times on Friday. It was written by the paper's former executive editor Bill Keller, who in the 1990s was its Johannesburg bureau chief. The obit was eight years in the making and it included comments from a 2007 interview Keller conducted with Mr. Mandela.

Across a wide spectrum, many have shared their thoughts about Mr. Mandela's passing. Here are a few worth sharing:

• The Rev. Al Sharpton shared the sentiment of many, not only in my country but throughout the world, when he commented on MSNBC in the first hour after the announcement of Mr. Mandela's death: "We've lost one of the world's great citizens." 

• Muhammad Ali, generally considered among the greatest heavyweight boxers in the world  a sport which Mr. Mandela participated in his youth  said in a statement: "He taught us forgiveness on a grand scale. His was a spirit born free, destined to soar above the rainbows. Today his spirit is soaring through the heavens. He is now forever free."

• The American poet Maya Angelou, who unveiled a tribute poem to Mr. Mandela, shared her thoughts about his impact on the world with CBS News, saying: "He showed us how liberating it is to forgive."

• CNN's Christiane Amanpour, who is no stranger to reporting about world leaders, put things into perspective when she said: "Nelson Mandela was the towering moral giant of the 20th and 21st centuries. We will not see the likes of Madiba again for a long, long time."

• Finally, Kofi Annan, who is the chair of The Elders and chairman of the Kofi Annan Foundation and from 1997-2006 served as the secretary-general of the United Nations, wrote in a Financial Times commentary: "Almost 20 years ago, Mandela said South Africa had come as far as it had on the path to peace and democracy only because the world had set his country 'a moral example which we had dared to follow.' As we mourn his passing and honour his memory, the task for leaders and citizens alike is to dare to follow his example  in every corner of Africa and across the world."

Photograph of Nelson Mandela courtesy of Google Images, 2013.

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