Soon after the moment when President Abraham Lincoln breathed his last breath, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton uttered one of the most famous quotes in American history. “Now he belongs to the ages,” is what was recorded by many who were in the room. Yesterday, President Obama uttered a similar quote as the world lost another history making individual.Like Lincoln, Nelson Mandela has surely earned a venerable place in world history.
By now, most of us know the story. A lawyer, Mandela became involved in politics at an early age, joining the African National Congress in the late 40s. In 1962 he was convicted for conspiracy to overthrow the apartheid government and spent 27 years in prison. An international campaign led to Mandela’s release in 1990. During the year following his release, Mandela was able to begin negotiations with then President F.W. de Klerk and established the first multiracial elections in the nation’s history. History was then made when Mandela became the first black president of South Africa.Once elected he did not seek retribution upon the white minority establishment. He instead formed a unity government which included all people and instituted a reconciliation commission.
I think there are many lessons we can take from the life of Nelson Mandela. First, is that we must never give up hope. Once we lose hope, all is lost. Sitting in a prison cell, one can easily lose any sense of hope. But for 27 years, Mandela endured unthinkable torment and survived because he had hope in his heart. Two, we must never give up fighting for what we believe is right and just. It took decades for Mandela to achieve his dream of ridding South Africa of apartheid. But he never gave up. And third, we must never let our anger turn us into those very forces we were fighting against. For even in victory, we must be open to all points of view and be willing to include the vanquished with us as we move forward in victory. For Mandela, even though his supporters questioned his judgement, this was a non debatable issue.
I pray that our world will take these lessons of Nelson Mandela to heart. I hope that we become a better people because of what he taught us. I hope our leaders lead by his example. And while he now belongs to the ages, the legacy of Nelson Mandela will live on for many years to come.