After suffering from ill health for the past year, Mandela has passed away at age 95.
Mandela was an icon of peace and reconciliation and guided South Africa to become a racially tolerant democracy.
“The time for the healing of the wounds has come. The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come,” Mandela said in his acceptance speech on becoming South Africa’s first black president in 1994.
In 1964, while on trial for fighting against the all-white government he famously stated, “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 see realized. But my Lord, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Released from prison after 27 years, he began negotiating a peaceful resolution to introduce a multi-racial democracy in South Africa.
Mandela lived a hard life. During his time in prison both his mother and eldest son died. He was not permitted to attend the funeral. Shortly after, his second wife became involved in a public infidelity scandal which lead to their divorce. His only surviving son then died of AIDS.
“If one person could be called the conscience of the world, it would be Nelson Mandela”. Nadine Gordimer, the South African writer and Nobel laureate for literature, once said, “He is at the epicenter of our time, ours in South Africa, and yours, wherever you are.”
In a famous letter that was sent to the Daily Mirror in 2005, Nelson wrote;
Today we live in a world that remains divided. A world in which we have made great progress and advances in science and technology.
But it is also a world where millions of children die because they have no access to medicines.
We live in a world where knowledge and information have made enormous strides, yet millions of children are not in school.
We live in a world where the Aids pandemic threatens the very fabric of our lives. Yet we spend more money on weapons than on ensuring treatment and support for the millions infected by HIV. It is a worldof great promise and hope. It is also a world of despair, disease and hunger.
Millions of people in the world’s poorest countries are trapped in the prison of poverty.
It is time to set them free.
Poverty is not natural, it is man-made and can be overcome by the action of human beings.
The leaders of the world’s richest countries – who meet at the G8 summit in Scotland next week – have already promised to focus on the issue of poverty, especially in Africa.
The steps they must take to bring this about are very clear and the first is ensuring trade justice.
The second is an end to the debt crisis for the poorest countries.
The third is to deliver much more aid and to make sure it is of the highest quality.
I say to all those leaders – do not look the other way, do not hesitate.
Recognise that the world is hungry for action not words.
You too have the opportunity to tell them that they must act with courage and vision.
Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great.
You can be that great generation.