We’ve all been expecting the news of Nelson Mandela’s death for some time. The 95-year old South African statesman has been ailing for months. Perhaps, more than anything, Mandela has shown the impact that one human being can have here on Earth.
Two years ago I had the opportunity to visit Robben Island where Mandela was held for 18 of his 27 years in prison. The island is in sight of the beautiful city of Capetown but has the feeling of a concentration camp when you arrive, especially the banner sign proclaiming “We Serve With Pride.”
Tours are usually given by former inmates, as was ours. There we saw many relics of the apartheid era — signs, menus, you name it. But nothing moves you as much as standing inside the tiny cell that Mandela called home for almost three decades.
There at Robben Island he met other like-minded prisoners and strategized the end of the apartheid era in his country.
The humanity, the presence, the dignity of Nelson Mandela in the face of such circumstances rallied both world opinion and his own people. He would become the first black president of the Republic of South Africa.
In recent years, Mandela became one of the most admired statesmen in the world – a symbol of strength willing to compromise, respect for all people, the redemption of forgiveness, and peace. Perhaps his death will stimulate our Congress, our legislatures, our assemblies to honor his memory with a new approach to civic engagement based in civil discussion and relationships, and respect for different points of view.
One man, giant impact. May you rest in peace, Nelson Mandela.