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December 6, 2013 / ultrafox1963

The greatest statesman of our time

A nation united in joy President Mandela congratulates Francois Pienaar at the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

A nation united in joy – President Mandela congratulates Francois Pienaar at the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

I was at home watching snooker on TV when I received the news on my Twitter feed.

Nelson Mandela, revered by generations as a global icon, had passed on at the age of 95.

This event, while not entirely a shock (Mandela had been battling illness for several months), serves as evidence that even the most gifted of human beings is unable to escape the ravages of mortality.

Yet rather than mourn his demise, we should use this occasion to celebrate an extraordinary life lived by an extraordinary man.

Mandela was born on 18 July 1918, four months before the conclusion of World War I. Although the great world empires were engaged in savage slaughter during that time – including against each other – one point of general agreement between them was the idea of racial supremacism.

In some parts of the world, such injustices would persist in law for generations afterwards. Indeed, Mandela was unable to enjoy basic freedoms – which many in more developed countries take for granted – until well into his eighth decade.

His epic struggle to attain those liberties has been extensively documented. Ironically, his death was announced at the London premiere of the film Long Walk to Freedom, based on his autobiography.

Mandela understood, appreciated and ultimately harnessed the power of sport to promote social cohesion. A keen boxer in his younger days, he drew inspiration from listening to Muhammad Ali fights on the radio during his years of imprisonment.

He also sanctioned the idea of sporting isolation to draw attention to the plight of his people – a move which helped to hasten the end of apartheid and the advent of a new, non-racial “rainbow nation”.

Yet once elected to office in April 1994, no-one worked more tirelessly to bring South Africa back into the global community than Mandela, who was instrumental in bringing several major sports tournaments to his homeland.

The image of him, sporting a Springbok jersey, embracing the successful home captain Francois Pienaar at the climax of the 1995 Rugby World Cup is one of the most powerful of the 20th century.

This event was a signal to the world of Mandela’s sincerity in upholding his lifelong vows to bring harmony rather than hatred between his country’s ethnic groups. Where lesser leaders – including some close to South Africa’s borders – chose to wreak vengeance on former oppressors, Mandela instead took the path of tolerance and forgiveness.

Although he did not succeed during his presidency in eradicating disease, poverty or inequality within South Africa, he leaves it in a far more secure state than it was a generation ago.

Mandela transcended race, religion, nationality, perhaps even ideology. His central themes of courage, hope and humanity will endure wherever and whenever the values of democracy, diversity and equality are cherished.

If proof of his global legacy was needed, it came on the steps of the White House. Barack Obama, the first US President of African heritage, paid Mandela a generous and fully-merited tribute, citing him as a central source of inspiration on his journey to office.

Millions around the world will have a similar story to tell. And we’re determined to keep his flame burning.

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