Thank you, Nelson Mandela

Nelson Madella, from prisoner #46664 to president

Nelson Madella, from prisoner #46664 to president

For to be free is not to merely cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. — Nelson Mandela


I turned on the radio at about 5:15 this morning to hear the BBC coverage of the memorial service being held in the South African village where Mandela was born. I cannot let this day pass without personally paying tribute to Mandela.

Two of the greatest leaders of the 20th century emerged from a South Africa characterized by hate and injustice: Mandela and Gandhi. A third  man of comparable stature emerged from the hate and injustice of the Jim Crow South: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. All were on the world stage in the early years of my life; all played a role in shaping my sense of right and wrong; all made hope tangible.

I have certainly wondered how I would behave if faced with decisions that put me at  great risk. Would I have the moral fiber to choose to do “the right thing.” You know, would I jeopardize myself and my family to hide a Jew in Nazi Germany? Would I drive through the Mississippi night to help register black voters knowing that the Ku Klux Klan was on my trail? Would I resist in every way I could the power and viciousness of apartheid?

And, could I, faced with the pain and death and loss of an unjust society, come to believe that  resistance is ultimately most powerful when it is non-violent and redemptive–pointed all along the way toward a goal of reconciliation and the embrace of one’s enemies?

Pretty powerful.

No wonder the world is gathering in a remote South African village today. Nelson Mandela’s life carried this message for all of us–some people can behave with amazing ethical strength, and if some people can, there’s hope that any of us can.

Thank you, Nelson Mandela.

2 Responses to “Thank you, Nelson Mandela”

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  1. Joseph M. Liotta says:

    I was going to comment earlier in the day but I went about a days worth of business. As a matter of fact I have not tuned in to any of the ceremonies. On my ride home I heard you say at about 4:50 pm, that you hoped people would comment and with that invitation, I will. However it is now past 7 pm and no one else has commented. I find this strange.

    You’ve listed two great South Africans there with Gandhi and Mandela but there is a third one, Desmond Tutu. Mandela and Tutu were partners in every sense of the word. Tutu preached repentance, ministered to Mandela and Mandela spread this truth about Christianity. Repentance is not forgiveness. It is one thing to forgive. It is totally another thing to repent.

    Nelson Mandela was the epitome of both. He walked the walk of both of these all-embracing truths.

    What is disturbing is that some people don’t think that our flags should be at half-mast. Some of their reasoning is that Mandela was not a U.S. citizen. They go so far say that he broke the law. He is a criminal. He is a “Communist”. Some people just don’t get it and unfortunately they never will.

    I am sounding “preachy” but that is ok sometimes. I am proud of Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, they represent the best of the Anglican tradition of which I am a part of, but above and beyond that, they represent humanity in its most basic vulnerabilities and possibilities.

  2. Mandela’s greatest contribution to South Africa may well have been his refusal to run for a second term. The global map is littered with virtual failed states that fell into ruins because the liberation hero decided to make himself dictator-for-life, typically erecting a cult of personality around himself. In not running for re-election, Mandela affirmed that the South African republic as a nation was greater than any individual, that its fortunes were not inextricably linked to one person. If the greatest South African of them all admitted that he was not indispensable, how could any lesser one claim so?