The Nation



Mandela and the capacity to forgive

Legendary South African leader showed us the love, nobility and wisdom that humans are capable of

Human history is full of unspeakable evil. Because of the things we do to each another, one has to wonder if God will ever forgive us. Many of us wondered if there is a God to begin with.

But once in a blue moon comes a person who touches our hearts and soul and reminded us of the better aspects of our nature. Mandela is a moral conscience for his times, of our time.

South African President Nelson Mandela, who died this past Thursday at the age of 95, was such a person.

Like those before him - Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr and Mahatma Gandhi, Mandela was one of the towering figures of the 20th century revered worldwide for his courage and the personal sacrifice he made for his people and for humanity.

Mandela spent half a century fighting against apartheid, a system that he called "moral genocide". It subjected millions of black South Africans to the rule of the country's white minority. Mandela spent 27 years in prison for his insurrection against the state.

He was eventually freed in 1990 following tremendous pressure from all sectors of society, government and non-government, and millions overseas who stepped up a boycott and sanctions on the white-ruled Republic of South Africa.

Mandela stuck to his principles and dignity and walked out of his prison cell into the public arena with no bitterness for what the state had done to him. On his mind was not retribution but nation-state building - how to get the blacks and the whites to move on as a nation.

Things that blacks used to hate, like the Springboks rugby team, a sport that once embodied white supremacy, became a unifying force for the building of a new South Africa.

The foundation he laid - like the Truth and Reconciliation process - led to forgiveness and reconciliation to a scale rarely heard in human history. And it was this aspect of his life - the moral courage to do the right thing - that made him one of the great world leaders. Even as he aged, Mandela's legend continue to grow as he became an object of global reverence.

Some say heroes are a product of circumstances. But Mandela, from the outset, was a natural leader. He may have been feisty as a leader and failed in some aspect in the management of his family affairs. But he had the kind of virtue and discipline that were needed to led a revolution against a state machinery that is much more powerful than his army of followers and maintain the peace after the conflict.

The man was focused his sense of destiny and wasn't about to let things like retribution and revenge - potential bloodbaths - get in the way of a country that has so much potential.

In 1964 when he was tried for insurrection, Mandela said "the ideal of a democratic and free society" is "an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve, but if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die".

The court handed him a life sen?tence. Three decades later, Mandela won South Africa's first national and non-racial election. Miraculously, it was a peaceful transition. That says a great deal about the South African people. It also said a great deal about our humanity and the capacity we have to forgive one another.

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