It was Albert Einstein who, on the passing of Mahatma Gandhi, remarked that “Generations to come, it may well be, will scarce believe that such a man as this one ever in flesh and blood walked upon this Earth.” and so it is with Nelson Mandela.
There will be some who in an effort to appear controversial and original in their analysis will attempt to contaminate Mandela’s legacy by pointing out that the African National Congress engaged in terrorist activity and that Nelson Mandela was therefore a terrorist himself. It is true that the ANC like many groups that stand against injustice initially sought the path of violence but it is well to remember that ultimately a journey is defined by it’s final destination and not by the mis-steps along the road.
In recent history there have been two great inspirational moments for freedom, the fall of apartheid and the fall of the Berlin Wall. These two man made constructs divided men’s hearts and seemed as immovable as mountains. Their fall demonstrates to us all that nothing mankind can construct lasts forever and it inspires us to believe that other seemingly intractable problems, like the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Korean issue, and Islamic extremism can be resolved peacefully.
Apartheid lasted as long as it did primary because the white minority feared that if the black majority came to power then violence and inequality would be visited upon them in return. This fear was not without some foundation as many examples where this had happened across post-colonial Africa could be seen. Nelson Mandela’s first great achievement was to persuade the white ruling classes to choose hope over the expectation that an end to apartheid would see their own destruction.
His second great achievement was to deliver on that hope. He forged the modern multi-cultural South Africa we see today with just two tools, Truth and Reconciliation. Having spent 27 years in prison himself he was able to inspire others to forgive, only by example could he do this.
Today is a day to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s legacy and be grateful that when one of history’s great opportunities presented itself one of history’s greatest men was there to meet it.
Nelson Mandela, in death, now takes his place alongside Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King as an inspiration to future generations. There is little to mourn in his passing and everything to celebrate on the completion of his life.