In Memoriam: Reflecting on Nelson Mandela

In light of Laureate Nelson Mandela’s passing on December 5th, this updated blog by 2011 Peace Scholar Thato Masire stands as a tribute to the great man.

As we mourn the death of one of humanity’s finest, it is well to recall Nelson Mandela’s decades of struggles and success. When he and F.W. de Klerk received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for “their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime,” Nelson Mandela was already a global icon and a symbol of peace.

Mandela played an instrumental role in the discussions that led to the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa, which was characterized by years of white minority rule. His leadership during and after the negotiations laid the foundation for a new South Africa, and following the dismantling of apartheid, Mandela became the first black democratically-elected president of South Africa.

Taking office when South Africa was deeply divided, he restored the dignity of the black majority while also reassuring the white minority that it had nothing to fear from the change of government. Naming his former adversary F.W. de Klerk as deputy president was a testament of his dedication to racial inclusion in all spheres of society, even at the highest level of government. Mandela was committed to the functioning of the Rainbow Nation. The term, coined by 1984 Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu, described the diversity of races and tribes that comprise modern South Africa.

As president, Mandela led South Africa on a course that prioritized nation-building and reconciliation. He worked tirelessly towards the promotion and maintenance of peace in his beloved country. It is widely believed that Mandela’s leadership before and during his presidency averted a civil war along racial and ethnic lines. Peace appears to have been perpetually on his mind, as reflected in his actions and decisions.

After leaving office and retiring from active politics, Mandela established the Nelson Mandela Foundation, the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and the Mandela Rhodes Foundation. A true global citizen, Mandela lent his efforts and time as an advocate of peace and reconciliation, often under the auspices of these foundations.

In 2008, in his 89th year, Mandela established The Elders, as an initiative to address some of the world’s most pressing issues. Members of The Elders include Nobel Laureates UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, Finnish Prime Minister Martti Ahtisaari, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The idea behind this eminent group was and is to offer expertise and guidance to the global leaders of today.

In honor of the contributions Mandela made towards the culture of peace and freedom, the United Nations declared July 18th as the Nelson Mandela International Day. He is the first individual to receive such an honor.

When he was present at the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize Forum, F.W. de Klerk credited Nelson Mandela for his essential role in the building of new post-apartheid South Africa. What we continue to learn from Mandela’s leadership is how to strive for and achieve something bigger than oneself.


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