“He is now resting, he is now at peace. Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father,” said South African president Jacob Zuma yesterday after the passing of a man who was undoubtedly one of the most influential men of the twenty-first century.
Nelson Mandela was born into a country that was deeply divided along cultural and racial lines. With a birth-name that translated to “Troublemaker,” he would go on to become a revolutionary figure in South Africa, becoming an instrumental figure in tearing down the system of apartheid, the systematic separation of racial groups, that had gripped South Africa since its colonization by the Dutch.
For his activism, he was imprisoned for close to three decades. Despite being behind bars, Mandela remained a staunch anti-apartheid advocate, corresponding with other activists and radicals outside the prison, both inside South Africa and the wider global community. He even went so far as to refuse a deal for release that involved his renouncing the struggle against apartheid. His imprisonment garnered an immense amount of international attention as the years went by, with pleas for his release coming from millions of people across the globe.
His release from prison in 1990 was considered a critical moment for South Africa, and over the next two years he pushed for multiracial elections; elections that he would later win in 1994.
Mandela was the first African president of South Africa, and his years in office were marked by efforts at racial reconciliation, economic rehabilitation and and government building. He oversaw the Truth and Reconciliation commissions that, for two years, investigated crimes that were committed under the apartheid government. He believed that the commissions were a success and had helped the country move away from its past, and would allow them to concentrate on their present and future.
He would only serve one five-year term as South Africa’s president, and went on to focus his efforts on philanthropic work related to HIV/AIDS. He retired from public life in 2004, but continued to work in the background with the non-profit foundation that he began.
Though he may have passed away from this world, the work that he did over his 95 year lifetime will continue to be an inspiration for generations to come. His positions and statements on matters of equality, education and his faith in the human spirit will continue to be read, heard and put into practice. He will always be remembered as a man who struggled and pushed for a vision of a society where none are exploited or oppressed by others.
There are many statements that he has made, both in speeches and in print, that exemplify the kind of man that he was. Many of them are being expressed and remembered now, thrust again into the spotlight with the event of his passing. But there is one that I think is one of the most poignant for those of us who live in a country that prides itself on the freedom that it was built on.
From his 1995 autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom: “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.”
Editorial Editor Caleb Hendrich is a senior journalism and political science major. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org