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R.I.P Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela, the legendary South African civil rights leader, passed away yesterday at the age of 95. Mandela was receiving treatment for a chronic lung infection in his home in Johannesburg. He had been suffering from increased health problems over the last few years. Now the man who altered the destiny of his country is gone. What can you say about a man like Nelson Mandela? He’s the type of human being that comes along on the international stage maybe two or three times a century. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the only figures from the 20th century in the same category as him are Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King. He showed the world that one person with courage and conviction can literally change the world.

Mandela was born into a country that more than anywhere else was set up along racial lines. The White South African minority held all the power while the Black African majority were treated like virtual slaves. Separation was the rule of the day and institutionalized inequality was systematically enforced. The Apartheid system that Mandela spent the majority of his life fighting against was an inexcusable horror. Condemned by most countries in the world, with the notable exception of the U.S. for most of Apartheid’s history, Mandela arose to international prominence in the 1960’s as one of the leader of the African National Congress. What he sought, and this is key, was not a South Africa in which the Black majority ruled over the Whites but a free and equal nation in which people of all races could live together in peace. He was thrown in prison for 27 years for his trouble.

Mandela showed that there is nothing more dangerous to a corrupt system than a person with determination and principles. In 1990 Mandela was released from prison and immediately went back to work to bring Apartheid to an end. In 1994 he became the first Black president of South Africa and led the nation from an international pariah and into the economic powerhouse of Sub-Saharan Africa. He retired from public office in 1999, but continued to push his country into being a better nation. One of the things that made Mandela so unique was his ability to recognize his own shortcomings. For example, he spoke in later years that he could have done more during his time as president to curb South Africa’s AIDS epidemic. It takes a big man to admit is mistakes.

It will be interesting to see what happens in South Africa now that he is gone. Mandela was a unifying force in a country that was divided for so long. Both Whites and Blacks in South Africa look to him as the father of the nation. A loose alliance of groups were largely held together out of respect for the man. Hopefully, his life’s work of bringing the country together will allow South Africa to continue along the path that he set them on. So, long Madiba. You’ve earned your rest.

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