I came home last night to hear the news that Nelson Mandela, former leader of the African National Congress and first black President of South Africa, had passed away at the age of 95. I am far too young to remember any of the period of Mandela’s incarceration, although I do just about remember his release. Two memories of mine that do stand out vividly from the immediate post-Apartheid era are the seemingly endless queues to vote in the 1994 election and then a year later Mandela cheering like a schoolboy as Francois Pienaar held aloft the Webb Ellis trophy.
Mandela himself said “Let every man be respected as an individual and no man idolized,” but he is a man who is idolised by millions. He was not a perfect man- prone to stubbornness, anger and apparently distant and cold in his private life- failings he could be forgiven after so many years imprisoned. Yet he was able to rise above, soar even, forgiving those who had oppressed him and in later years breaking with tradition in his criticism of other African leaders and campaigning for HIV/AIDS awareness. He was truly a man who believed in freedom and equality for all.
Will there be another like Mandela? His death signals the end of that series of great freedom fighters and revolutionaries who dominated the 20th Century. Although we might not be able to replicate what Mandela achieved we can all learn a little from him, a little that can make our lives and the lives of those around us that little bit better.