Mandela’s name is synonymous to forgiveness, he will be remembered to have lived and died, loving and forgiving. Mandela said that “Forgiveness liberates the soul, it removes fear. That’s why it’s such a powerful weapon.” It is forgiveness towards his nation’s wrongdoers that he used as a weapon against the oppressive apartheid regime, which enabled transformation of relationships, positive change and peace in his beloved country, South Africa.
Nelson Mandela was a former African National Congress (ANC) leader and South African President that passed on December 5, 2013. In 1964, before he was sentenced for inciting workers strike and leaving the country illegally, he said “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” In 1969, while Madela was in prison, he wrote “The threat of death evoked no desire in me to play the role of martyr. I was ready to do so if I had to. But the anxiety to live always lingered.” Mandela did not die in prison; he was freed after 27 years of incarceration. In an interview about a documentary on his life in 1996, he noted, “Death is something inevitable. When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace” .
Mandela had actually accomplished beyond what his people had expected and the world will miss him dearly. Mandela’s life and vision will continue to be sources of inspiration for many generations to come. After being offered a deal to end his captivity, in a letter to his daughter in 1985, he said “I cannot and will not give any undertaking at a time when I and you, the people, are not free. Your freedom and mine cannot be separated.” Mandela was prevented from attending the funeral of his mother and his son while he was in detention. Although he was bitter to have been denied the opportunity to say final farewell to the people that mattered so much to him, he said “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”
Mandela was finally released from prison in 1991, and he rose to become the first black president of South Africa in 1994. He acknowledged that “It is a great tragedy to spend the best years of your life in prison. But if I had not been to prison, I would not have been able to achieve the most difficult task in life, and that is changing yourself. I had that opportunity because in prison we have what we don’t have in our life outside prison: the opportunity to sit down and think.” In a speech to mark the end of apartheid in 1995, a day tagged “Reconciliation Day” he asserted that “Reconciliation does not mean forgetting or trying to bury the pain of conflict, but that reconciliation means working together to correct the legacy of past injustice.” He further said that “Today we no longer vow mutual destruction, but solemnly acknowledge our interdependence as free and equal citizens of our common motherland. Today we reaffirm our solemn constitutional contract to live together on the basis of equality and mutual respect.”
Nelson Mandela faced the reality of leading those whom he had fought against for years, those who had imprisoned him, tortured his people, and committed horrible atrocities against the non-white populaces in South Africa. Instead of revenge and retribution for what the white South Africans had done to him and his people, he chose to forgive the apartheid regime and underlined that, “The time for the healing of the wounds has come. The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come. The time to build is upon us.” Mandela was awarded numerous honors, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for his exemplary forgiveness lifestyle.
There is no doubt that Mandela’s legacy will continue to be remembered. His work brought peace and democracy not only to South Africa, but it also served as a model of what can be accomplished through non-violence and forgiveness to everyone across the globe. According to Mandela, “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” Putin, Russian President described Mandela as “One of the greatest politicians in modern times…Mandela, having gone through the most difficult ordeals, was committed till the end of his days to the ideals of humanism and justice.”
President Barrack Obama described Mandela as a “giant of history”. He further said, “I am one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from Nelson Mandela’s life…I would study his words and his writings. The day he was released from prison gave me a sense of what human beings can do when they’re guided by their hopes and not by their fears. And like so many around the globe, I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example that Nelson Mandela set….so long as I live, I will do what I can to learn from him.” Mandela’s lifestyle of forgiveness needs to be emulated by all.