Few of them have walked the Earth.
South Africa’s Mandela, who died Thursday at age 95, rests among the departed whose legacies represent the best humanity has offered in our times: Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Mother Teresa. Gone, but not forgotten.
Right it is to mourn Madela’s passing — but right it is, too, to acknowledge that mankind owes it to this man’s memory to continue seeking equality in the darkest parts of the world. There, racism and discrimination still live, poverty still harms, hate still leads to violence.
Mandela the man is no more. Mandela the vision is remains.
In the few hours since his death, much has been made of perhaps his most striking feature — the ability to harbor no ill will toward the white apartheid society that imprisoned him for 27 years and brutally ruled over his race. That reaction is wholly understandable.
Yet, Mandela’s funeral next week should allow peace-loving people to consider our prayer that this hallowed South African can also serve as a harbinger for the world’s next liberator. If anything, history has proven the quest for equality is never complete. One great man or woman is always followed by another.
The cause is great. In 2013, strife and tensions still rock nations throughout Asia, the Middle East and parts of Europe. Violence is rampant in parts of the Americas. Whether caused by differences in religion, race or politics, people across the globe still need Mandela to preach the value of holding another’s hand, not squeezing it in anger.
Imagine a world without King, without Ghandi, without Teresa, without Mandela himself. Their sermons of brotherhood drowned out voices of hate in countries near and far. Without them, would civil rights exist in the United States? Would apartheid rule in South Africa? Would those who welcome national independence see so many countries still living under the dominion of others?
On Friday, The New York Times reminded its readers that Mandela, who, after his release from prison, served as South Africa’s first black president for five years, “was a politician, among the most transformative of his era, but still a politician. As such, he went through the usual ups and downs that characterize any political career.” In other words, he is both icon and imperfect.
We will let others debate whether Mandela’s presidency erred by concentrating too heavily on South African equality instead of South African justice. Historians will feast on those possibilities.
For now, count us among those who are thankful a man like Nelson Mandela had the courage and wisdom to lead his moral crusade. He improved the world, by his actions, by his words, by his leadership, by his grace. Forever will we be in his debt.