With the recent death of the great African leader Nelson Mandela, the entire world has lost one of the twentieth century’s most significant politicians and leaders. An exceptional freedom fighter who was influenced by Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi and US civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Mandela courageously and respectfully faced an abominable racist regime.
In his early 40s, Mandela was sentenced to imprisonment. He spent 27 years in prison, 18 of which were in solitary confinement. Prisoners were allowed only one visit a year, which lasted for no longer than half an hour. Mandela was allowed to write only one speech every six months. Those are only a few of the least prohibitive conditions he faced during his incarceration.
Mandela realized that this intimidating atmosphere aimed solely to psychologically destroy and humiliate him until he reached a point of no return. When he became aware of that, Mandela entered a phase of absolute steadfastness in order to save himself. He was released from prison following an intensive international campaign boycotting the apartheid government of South Africa which began to realize that it could not continue its racist approach. It was then that the apartheid-era government of South Africa—led by F.W. de Klerk—was convinced that the African leader had to be released.
A man of great stature, Mandela strode out of prison confidently, with his head held high, waving proudly to the people who were waiting to greet him. He calmly and composedly shook hands with everybody, black and white, who came out to welcome and congratulate him. Mandela transcended anger and vengeance and set himself a difficult goal: to reorganize the domestic political and social structure in South Africa and provide all his countrymen with safety and tranquility. He was extremely successful in that.
Later, the first free presidential elections were held in South Africa, and Mandela won by a landslide. During his five-year term in office, Mandela formed a committee aimed at promoting forgiveness and turning a new leaf in exchange for admitting mistakes. Mandela chose to be himself, an actual and real-life example of the spirit of tolerance. Thus, he chose F.W. de Klerk to be his vice-president. Mandela was duly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and he could have chosen to rule South Africa forever; however, he ultimately handed responsibilities for governing to his deputy and dedicated himself to helping African states to overcome their challenges. He contributed to the enhancement of South Africa’s image and attracted major investments, until the country became one of Africa’s most distinguished countries in terms of economy.
Mandela succeeded in assuring the whites in his country and across the world that love and tolerance can defeat evil given enough determination.
One of the most touching and symbolic scenes of Mandela’s presidency occurred when Mandela took the decision to wear the kit of the South African national team at the 1995 Rugby League World Cup final, which was being hosted by South Africa. In a single moment, Mandela won over millions of his white countrymen.
Mandela was not only a legendary personality, but he was almost a miracle in terms of tolerance and nobility. I had the honor of meeting and getting to know him in person, and I still consider this meeting one of the most important and influential events in my life. Mandela may have departed this world, but he has left an eternal legacy for us to benefit and learn from.