Thank God for Nelson Mandela.
Twenty years after his release from prison on Robben Island the world is a different, better place because of him. He is a living testimony to the impact that one person can make for the common good.
Four years after his release I was invited to South Africa by Angeles Arrien to work with youth leaders in Soweto. It was a memorable experience, a trip of a lifetime. South Africa was still in its early stages of transition and there was still the spectre of apartheid everywhere you went. Crime was a growing threat to civil society, a trend that continues to this day.
But when you think of what could have occurred there in the post-apartheid years, it is something of a miracle that the whole country did not explode in bloody reprisal for the injustices that occurred.
Mr. Mandela, and others who supported him, saw the dangers of continuing racial conflict, and steered the country on a different course. The film Invictus, currently playing in theatres, captures the spirit of those early years and the commitment of Mr. Mandela to a new South Africa.
All of this becomes even more inspirational when you consider that the Nelson Mandela who was sent to prison and the man that emerged 27 years later are quite different.
Mr. Mandela, by his own admission, was an angry, impatient man when his detention began. He emerged as a wise, moral and disciplined statesman. That transformation occurred when Mr. Mandela realized that non-violence was the only way that lasting change could be achieved. Mr. Mandela 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.”
These are the words of a Visionmaker. Let us never forget the example of Nelson Mandela.
© Patrick O’Neill 2010. All rights reserved