The life and legacy of Nelson ‘Madiba’ Mandela
BENJAMIN F. CHAVIS JR. | 12/20/2013, 1:27 p.m.
(NNPA) – As millions of people throughout the world mourn and celebrate the life and living legacy of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, it is important to focus on some of the most enduring and meaningful leadership attributes of Madiba’s long and valiant struggle for freedom, justice, equality, peace and empowerment. Mandela’s leadership not only transformed South Africa into an inclusive nonracial democracy and a vibrant emerging economy, but also Mandela became the unquestionable moral leader of the global movement for freedom.
We well remember that historic moment and magnificent sight on May 10, 1994, when heads of state from across Africa and from around the world gathered to attend the inauguration of President Nelson Mandela in South Africa. It was a celebration of the triumph of the election of Mandela, as well as a solemn salute to the victory of the liberation and freedom movement in South Africa and all over the region of Southern Africa. Through the hard work, tremendous sacrifices, blood and organizational discipline of the African National Congress, the first democratic election in the history of South Africa was achieved with one of the highest voter turnouts that the world has ever witnessed.
As executive director and CEO of the NAACP at that time, I traveled with Vice President Al Gore and first lady Hillary Clinton along with a delegation of elected officials together with national civic and labor leaders on Air Force One to South Africa. I was honored to sit beside Mrs. Coretta Scott King and Rev. Bernice King at Mandela’s inauguration. I knew then as I know now that Mandela and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were more than kindred spirits. Mandela and King were both relentless visionaries and fearless freedom fighters.
Sitting directly in front of me was President Fidel Castro of Cuba. It was significant for him to be in attendance because of the pivotal and game-changing role that Cuba had played in defeating the spread of apartheid in Southern Africa in the 1980s, in particular in the Republic of Angola. Another crucial attribute of Madiba was his unflinching international solidarity with other freedom fighters and revolutionaries who were successful in confronting human oppression, colonialism, imperialism and poverty.
There we all were together amidst tens of thousands of dignitaries, leaders and the masses of people of Africa to observe the irreversible transformation of South Africa. After taking the oath of office, Mandela spoke eloquently and forcefully. At the conclusion of his address, Mandela emphasized: “Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another … The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement. Let freedom reign.” From that moment until today, it has been the bountiful and fertile seeds of Madiba’s visionary leadership that have helped to guide and shape the progress of South Africa.
Mandela believed in the importance of reconciliation and forgiveness in the context of assuring equal justice and freedom for all, yet he was not at all some sort of soft or milquetoast leader. Madiba was strong and maintained a firm disciplined humility even after doing 27 years as a political prisoner of the evil of apartheid. It is noteworthy to caution those who now want to attempt to reduce the multiple aspects of the genius of his character and leadership to only the comforting singularity of being designated solely as a “forgiver” or “reconciler.” Yes it is without question that his courage and leadership to avoid a revengeful transition bloodbath in South Africa was the critical testimony to his towering strength and commitment to liberate all the people of South Africa toward equality, peace, economic justice and empowerment. My point here, however, is to simply remind everyone that freedom is not free and not without sacrifice and struggle. He and the ANC willingly paid a very heavy price to enable the progress that is celebrated today.