Friday, December 6, 2013

"A great light has gone out in the world*"

Nelson Mandela, one of the greatest leaders of the 20th Century, passed away last night. As the world pays tribute to Mandela, it is helpful to remind ourselves of the values and issues he fought for so passionately. As accolades and condolences come pouring in from right and left wing governments, it is easy to forget that when Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island in the early 1980s, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and US President Ronald Reagan both labelled him as a 'terrorist'. Today the foremost legacy of Mandela is that of the man who emerged from those 27 years of political imprisonment. The statesman and father of the nation who was able to so generously forgive his captors and lead his country through the difficult process of reconciliation. The dignity, grace and humility with which Mandela was able to forgive his enemies and become the first Black President of South Africa and the head of a government of diverse races, interests and beliefs, has been an inspiration to many. 

Now, as we bid farewell to Madiba, those of us working in South Africa and across the world to fight for equality, freedom and justice should remind ourselves that while his legacy is indeed enormous and inspirational, there is still much work to be done. Racial and economic divides persist across the world today. Perhaps the best way to honour the work Mandela has done is to acknowledge this reality and continue to speak up for the issues he cared so deeply about.

*F. W. de Klerk

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