With the death yesterday of Nelson Mandela, the world lost a great African leader.
And yet, as I reflect on this sentence I realise how inadequate it is. Why should I, a white Australian, connect with this man, his life, and his death? World leaders die all the time, yet they almost never directly affect us. But the passing of Nelson Mandela, for me, is strangely personal. Part of the explanation is that I grew politically aware during the ’80s, as an Australian diplomat. At that time it was almost impossible to imagine a South African future not drenched in blood. All of us who followed and participated in the evolution of South Africa from an apartheid state to a shining democracy, know that that future would not have been possible without Nelson Mandela.
But even this enormous political legacy does not explain the personal connection. I believe we mourn his death not because of what he did for South Africa, remarkable as this was, but because he pointed to the dignity of all us. He did not fight simply for the rights of black Africa, but for freedom, democracy, and the fundamental equality of all people. His ultimate victory is a triumph for the better part of all of us.
In his personal life, and bearing, he embodied this human triumph. He lived with dignity and without bitterness or regret. He, of course, was deeply conscious of race, but this did not limit him. He knew of his failings and shared these openly. Yes, he was political, but politics was never an end. He celebrated the moment – it was hard not to smile at his dancing.
Nelson Mandela has shown us all a better way to be and his legacy extends from the shores of South Africa to the hearts of all who will listen.
(Out of respect for Nelson Mandela’s life and legacy I ask that you do not use this post as an opportunity to commercialize or advertise your work. Thank you.).
[Header image: “Wildebeest Sunset” by David Clarke]