Nelson Mandela died in his home in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Thursday at the age of 95.
Nelson Mandela became a figure of global importance for his role in the ending of the racist system of Apartheid that had been imposed in South Africa. Mandela was a member of the African National Congress, which was a body that he described as dedicated to the “overthrow of white supremacy and the establishment of a truly democratic form of government.” For his efforts, he was arrested multiple times before being tried for treason and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964. He concluded his defense with this statement: “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” After his imprisonment, he became a rallying point for those working to change the government, but that change was a long time in coming.
Nelson Mandela was released from prison on February 11, 1990, at the same time that democracy movements had sprung up around the globe and the Cold War was ending, and he emerged as a leading figure in the effort to dismantle Apartheid. Working with South African President F.W. De Klerk, they successfully did just that, subsequently electing Mandela as the new leader of the country and earning both men the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.
Though Mandela’s personal and political struggle was long, and by his own admission he was in no way a perfect man, he became known for his forgiveness of those who had so brutally oppressed him, and his public ability to forgive even those who were his jailers served as an inspiration for South Africa as it attempted to reconcile its own history, and for the world as it continues to struggle with oppression in its many forms.
Here at Burlington High School, we wish to acknowledge the struggle that Mandela led, the victories he achieved, and the leadership he showed. Though he himself remarked “I am no angel,” he did make the world a better place through his actions and his determination. South Africa has “lost its greatest son,” as current South African President Jacob Zuma said on Thursday, and the world has lost an individual who, for a while, transcended not only the petty boundaries humans create to separate themselves, but the bounds of history itself.
May we know more like him in the years to come.