The death of Nelson Mandela evokes powerful emotion much like the day he was released after 27 years behind bars. His release from prison signaled an era of hope and great expectations for the people of South Africa, and Mandela did not disappoint. He oversaw the final fall of the apartheid era and, as the first post-apartheid president, President Mandela continued to push forward his strong commitment to peaceful conciliation and forgiveness. President Mandela sought to build an inclusive society founded on democratic principles and the rule of law, setting an example for all in South Africa. It is because of Mandela’s stewardship that the Republic of South Africa transitioned so peacefully.
But Mandela’s impact was not confined to South Africa. His release and leadership heralded a new era in Africa. Because of Mandela’s example, other countries across the continent accelerated reforms, and the possibility for a truly progressive Africa started to appear as countries deepened institutional reforms. It was because of this foundation laid by Mandela that Africans started talking about an African renaissance.
The rest of the world too learned from Mandela. They learned that it is indeed possible to overcome historical prejudices, forgive, reconcile and work for the common good of humanity. Mandela taught all of us and the generations to come that, above all, one’s principles really do matter.
It is no wonder that his death evokes such great sorrow to so many not just in South Africa and across the continent, but indeed across the entire world. Even though President Mandela’s health has been declining in recent years, many could not bring themselves to envision his death, notwithstanding that he was 95 years old. Thus, his death is still shocking to many of us and no doubt it is one of the saddest days for South Africa and Africa. Many may wonder whether how South Africans will continue to hold together now that their anchor of stability is no more.
For me, however, the death of Mandela doesn’t minimize what Madiba—the name that South Africans often use for Mandela—represents. I see Madiba not as the physical being but as the embodiment of a rare humanity that transcends death. He is a sort of spirit that reminds us all of what humans can achieve if they work together and if people of all races and creeds see each other as equals. This is the same spirit that was not defeated by 27 years of inhuman treatment behind bars. It is the same spirit that led the blacks and whites of South Africa to hold hands and walk together after apartheid.
And during those moments of weaknesses when we may feel superior to those of other tribes, races or religion, let us remember Madiba so we can do the right thing. Madiba is with us forever.
And so, I refuse to say farewell to my hero because for me Madiba will always live on even after he is gone.