Nelson Mandela Dies at 95

Jim Burroway

December 5th, 2013

Nelson Mandela, 1993 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and the greatest freedom fighter and reconciler of our age, has died today at his home near Johannesburg, South Africa, after a lengthy illness. He was 95.

Known widely by his clan name, Madiba, Mandela spent decades as a political prisoner in his fight against apartheid and later became its first black President. Among many things, he will be remembered as an outspoken advocate for racial reconciliation during the tense years following the abolition of apartheid.

F.W. de Klerk, South Africa’s last white president, said that “Mandela’s biggest legacy … was his remarkable lack of bitterness and the way he did not only talk about reconciliation, but he made reconciliation happen in South Africa.”

“He was a remarkable man,” de Klerk told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. “And South Africa, notwithstanding political differences, stands united today, in mourning.”

He was also a strong supporter for human rights generally, including those of LGBT people. Mandela was President of the African National Congress when it added an LGBT-rights plank to its platform in 1993. That same year, the interim constitution included a provision banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, making South Africa the first nation in the world with such a constitutional provision. The discrimination ban remained in place when South Africa formally adopted its permanent constitution in 1996. Soon after Mandela became President in 1994, he appointed Edwin Cameron, an openly gay, HIV-positive judge, to South Africa’s High Court of Appeal. That set the stage for South Africa to become the first (and, so far, only) nation on the African continent to provide marriage equality for its LGBT citizens.

All of this reflected Mandela’s view in which all human rights were linked together: “I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.”

In setting an example which few African leaders outside of South Africa have followed since, Mandela stepped down as President in 1999 after just one term in office. Since then, he has been an international ambassador for human rights abroad and a reassuring grandfatherly presence at home.

At the end of his trial in 1964, when he was convicted of sabotage and was sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island, he said:

“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 live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal, which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”


December 6th, 2013

Mandela was a giant of the battle for human dignity and equality. With his passing, we should all re-commit ourselves to doing what we can to end all forms of bigotry. There are countless connections among the various fronts in that battle. One small example, Margaret Marshall was a student activist against apartheid in South Africa who grew up to become Chief Justice of the Massachusetts SJC and author the Goodrich decision that opened the door to marriage equality in this country.


December 6th, 2013

What we do in life echoes in eternity.

Al Raymond

December 7th, 2013

South Africa has been so fortunate to have not only one of the greatest moral and political leaders of all time in Nelson Mandela, but also one of the most enlightened and courageous religious leaders in Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Their example promises to make South Africa a beacon of justice, equality, and freedom to light the whole world.

Timothy Kincaid

December 7th, 2013

Al, thank you for bringing up Archbishop Tutu. To have one global inspiring moral hero is rare, to have two is astonishing. Truly South Africa has had an overabundance of giants in the 20th Century and I pray that on their shoulders that nation lives up to it’s potential.

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