The world has lost one of its greatest statesmen and peacemakers.
Former South African President Nelson Mandela’s name is internationally synonymous with grace, reconciliation, peace and compassionate leadership. Also known affectionately by his tribal name, Madiba, he died Thursday after a long illness. He was 95.
Born of a royal family in his tribe, Mandela was once a policeman, a boxer, a law student and eventually a freedom fighter who embraced self-defense as a way to combat the oppressive, brutal apartheid regime that ruled his country. But after being convicted as a traitor and jailed for 27 years, he emerged as one of the world’s most famous political prisoners and an international hero.
Mandela embodied the South African concept of ubuntu — the idea that all human beings are linked by their humanity. That came through again and again as he went on to become the first freely elected black South African president in 1994. He shared a Nobel Peace Prize with the last white apartheid president, F.W. de Klerk.
And with another fellow Nobelist, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, he set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which allowed human rights offenders of all races to admit their crimes publicly in return for lenient treatment. That became a model for other nations that had experienced war and other long-term conflicts.
Mandela led his beloved nation without bitterness or hatred for his former oppressors and instead delivered a message of calm, nonviolent nation building. He understood that his homeland would thrive only if the killing stopped and South Africans of all races worked together.
When his presidential term ended in June 1999, he stepped down, unlike too many other African presidents who have stubbornly clung to power too long to the detriment of their countries. “I must step down while there are one or two people who admire me,” Mandela joked at the time.
As the world mourns his loss, Mandela’s legacy will live on in those who embrace the principles he lived by — equality, grace, compassion, reconciliation and forgiveness.