Friday, December 06, 2013

Mandela's legacy was about human dignity

"For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others." -Nelson Mandela

South Africa's first democratic president Nelson Mandela passed away yesterday. Mandela is the most important world statesman of the last 70 years.

Much has been said about the great man's contribution to justice and reconciliation, so I'll focus on something different.

Abraham Lincoln said, "Anyone can overcome adversity. If you really want to test a man's character, give him power."

And this is perhaps the most significant way in which Mandela distinguished himself: by NOT pretending he was indispensable to his nation's fate.

He could easily have erected a cult of personality around himself. So many liberation leaders around the world fell into that trap. His insistence on instead choosing the greater good is one of the biggest reasons he is so universally admired.

He was denounced as a terrorist by misleaders like Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. But as state sponsors of terrorism themselves, they were in no position to cast judgment on a man who was fighting for freedom as they fought against it.

But much like with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mandela's legacy is usually oversimplified, at least in western countries. It's oversimplified into his role in the fight for legal equality for black people. In fact, his real quest, much like Dr. Lking's was for the complete, fundamental dignity of human beings. That included legal equality but was much broader.

He argued that poverty and inequality "have to rank alongside slavery and apartheid as social evils."

That was his legacy.

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