Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president and anti-apartheid revolutionary, died yesterday evening at his home in Houghton, Johannesburg. He was 95.
Mandela leaves a legacy of global leadership in the struggle against racial oppression. He spent 27 years in prison after being convicted of treason by the apartheid regime in 1962, but in 1994 he was elected president in South Africa’s first fully democratic election. As head of state, Mandela emphasized the importance of reconciliation and resolution, receiving international support for his efforts. He received the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize and the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom, among other honors.
“Our nation has lost its greatest son,” current South African president Jacob Zuma said in a nationally televised address Thursday evening.
In the wake of his passing, Lehigh faculty members took time to reflect on Mandela’s life and legacy:
“What his legacy means to young people is really, really important. People ask: How could he do 27 years? How could he forgive his oppressors? How could he be so consensus-oriented in such a contentious environment? Very early on in his career as an activist he understood and was prepared to lay down his life for his principles. That kind of conviction is what carried him through all his powerful and important activism. For young people: pay attention to his ideology, to his doctrines, go see the movie, ‘Mandela: A Long Walk to Freedom,’ which is based on his autobiography. He was invested in revolution, but he was also invested in consensus and inclusion. Part of the love ethic that underwrites all of the work that Nelson Mandela did throughout this life has to do with him being inclusive. What young people can learn from that, particularly young activists, is it's less about compromise and more about consensus and a love ethic that allows you to focus more on including people, as opposed to excluding them.”
“To me, the miracle that is Nelson Mandela is that he died an old man peacefully in his bed. How many other revolutionaries, reformists and freedom fighters are permitted to live that completely and fully? For once, we have the opportunity to celebrate a life well lived. We are not mourning his assassination, or an abrupt end to a life cut too short. We are not engaged in calls for justice, criminal punishment for the assassins, a process of grieving, loss, anger, regret. We are celebrating how lucky we have all been to have lived in this century, to have shared a life with Mandela. He was a flawed man, better at politics than love, and this made him human. He is not a hero; rather, he is the true model of what we can all be when we are pushed, and when we push ourselves, to fight injustice in all its forms.”
“[Nelson Mandela] knew that the human desire to re-establish justice following injustice, which normally keeps societies intact, would rip his apart. As apartheid ended in South Africa, there was a very real possibility that the country would collapse into civil war, as communities driven by revenge and by fear of revenge attacked one another. Mandela held South Africa together by eschewing retribution, and persuading others to do the same.
In that time and that place, there was a higher morality than the desire to attain justice. Where there were far too many wrongs than could ever be righted, the path forward lay instead in reconciliation. President Mandela and his Government of National Unity established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) with a mandate to investigate apartheid-era human rights abuses and facilitate rehabilitation for victims. The TRC could also offer amnesty from prosecution to perpetrators who fully disclosed their crimes.”
“I'm saddened to hear of the passing of Nelson Mandela. My respect and appreciation for him became quite powerful after I visited South Africa in 2004 with the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues. One particularly strong memory of the trip involves a visit to the prison cell where Mr. Mandela spent nearly 30 years of his life, punished for his opposition to the cruel and racist apartheid regime. Despite this harsh punishment, Mr. Mandela remained an ardent advocate for peaceful social change and multi-racial democracy. Although his physical body has expired, Nelson Mandela leaves behind an extraordinary legacy of lessons for humanity regarding social justice and social change. Now, it's up to the rest of us to think about those lessons and to do our best to implement them wisely.”
Lloyd Steffen, university chaplain, professor of religion studies, and director of the Center for Dialogue, Ethics and Spirituality:
“With the death of Nelson Mandela, the world has lost a great leader. More importantly, however, the world has also lost a very good man. But for Mandela, South Africa could have turned into a bloodbath of vengeance and recrimination, and what happened because of his leadership and his vision for a peaceful and reconciled future was a confrontation with the evils of apartheid, the establishments of truth commissions and a directive for people to move on to build a new society on the foundations of love and forgiveness. This legacy is not only extraordinary to contemplate but even more extraordinary to see. When I had the opportunity to visit South Africa and Robben Island a few years ago, what most impressed me was not seeing Mandela's cell or the place in the yard outside his windows where he smuggled writings out, but listening to the tour guides who greet you in the main processing building where you go when the boat arrives. Some were former guards. They told stories about what they did in that prison, and some of what they did to inmates was horrific. Yet there they were, sharing their experiences from the past while pointing to the future. Some of the guards had actually formed friendships with former inmates, and former inmates were guides there too. Nelson Mandela did that. Mandela's greatness will be honored in the days ahead, and all of the tributes to be laid at his feet will be deserved. But more than great, he was also a good man, and it is his legacy of goodness that in this time of mourning and loss should humble us all.”
Alexander W. Wiseman, associate professor of comparative and international education:
"Nelson Mandela's death is an occasion to celebrate his life and his impact. One of the most enduring is the impact he had on the way we think about education. He is famously quoted as saying, 'Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,' but the way this quote is often used misses one of his most enduring legacies. In the 'Long Walk to Freedom,' he said, 'to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.' Using education not only to teach generations of youth the right to freedom from oppression, but also infusing education with curricula and teachers who show generations of youth how to live in a way that celebrates and increases the freedom others is the real impact. This is what it means to be a citizen of the world, and this is his legacy, at least to me."
Posted on Friday, December 06, 2013