The world lost a towering figure last Thursday with the passing of Nelson Mandela at age 95.
The father of a free South Africa, the great humanitarian and leader endured more than a quarter century in prison, most of it under extremely harsh and cruel conditions.
His struggle became the symbol of the fight to end South Africa’s racist apartheid system.
Many of us remember the South African divestment campaigns that swept American college campuses in the 1980s. That effort definitely contributed to bringing an end to apartheid and to Mandela’s finally being released from prison in 1990.
Today, students at New York University, The New School and elsewhere across the country advocating for their schools to divest from major fossil fuel companies take inspiration from Mandela and the anti-apartheid divestment campaign that occurred during a previous generation.
Mandela was a profoundly inspirational figure. President Obama has cited his transformative influence on his life.
Even arch conservatives like Newt Gingrich and Ted Cruz recognize the importance of Mandela, and what his struggle and what he stood for mean for all of mankind. “Real conservatives” have been blasting Gingrich for this, charging that Mandela was, in fact, a communist. Yes, he was, that’s true — but that doesn’t diminish in any way the profound significance of what he accomplished.
Mandela embodied humility, and also forgiveness. After his liberation from prison, he even remarkably found it within him to befriend his former jail guard.
Sadly, the daily tabloids have chosen to focus on ridiculously trivial matters, such as Obama’s “selfie” that he took of himself and the Danish prime minister at Mandela’s memorial service, or the sign language interpreter who, well…wasn’t. Hey, thank God, at least they didn’t put Lindsay Lohan on the front page again. Yet, many people were angered by such salacious news judgment regarding such an important occasion.
Thankfully, most of us will never have to go through what Mandela did during his long incarceration on Robben Island and other prisons. But, thankfully, Mandela never gave up — and his steadfastness, fortitude and courage helped forever change South Africa…and our world.
And, thankfully, it was Mandela upon whose strong shoulders such an inhumane burden, and then, after his release — as he became his country’s leader — such great responsibility, was thrust. Very few others could have done it.
As they used to say during the struggle: Amandya! Away Tu! … Amandya! Away Tu!