Editorial: Mandela’s dignity and more

Since his death last week at 95, the world has been mourning the passing of Nelson Mandela, a champion of human rights and dignity.

What brought him to the attention of so many people outside of South Africa was, of course, his fight against racial apartheid, a system of discrimination, segregation and oppression under an umbrella of white supremacy. As an opponent and victim of apartheid, Mandela had to endure much, including 27 years in South African prisons.

Mandela was not alone in suffering under the tools the apartheid government used to control the black majority. Many men and women stood with Mandela and paid the price in the fight for equality, from imprisonment to their lives.

What separated Mandela from the others in this struggle and made him a household name, not just to South Africans but around the world, was his grace under pressure and the ability to see that forgiveness would produce better and longer lasting results. In standing by his beliefs of what was right, he didn’t succumb to the bitterness, anger and vengeance that would have been expected given what he had endured. Instead, he used humor, reconciliation and an unbroken spirit to lead others toward an end to apartheid and the birth of a new South Africa — one based upon a vision of equality and democratic ideals.

I part because of his leadership, after the demolishing of apartheid, South Africa did not go through the same upheaval and bloodshed that other African nations experienced in the transformation from white rule.

That’s not to say that life there is perfect. Like so many countries, South Africa and its government is tested by poverty, violence and inequalities. But the nation has not slid backward to a place of racial hatred or oppression.

“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities,” he once said. And because it came from his heart, his way struck a chord with many people, crossing racial, ethnic and economic barriers.

Mandela was a rare individual, one who belongs with Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. as sentinel figures in the fight for human rights and freedom during their lifetimes — he can serve as a model for many years to come.

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