EDITORIAL - Mandela a portrait of defiance in fight for equality

Published: Friday | December 6, 2013 Comments 0

In the final years of his journey, Nelson Mandela's greying hair, endearing smile and frail body conveyed an avuncular or grandfatherly figure who could turn on the charm and melt even the iciest of personalities. But he was much more than that. Much more.

The African statesman, who died yesterday aged 95, was a moral colossus of the modern world whose message and significance transcended a nation and continent. For even though Mr Mandela's travails and triumphs might have been specific to his personal experience in South Africa, the narrative holds global importance to the cause of fundamental rights and freedoms.

History will venerate Nelson Mandela as one of the foremost advocates of human freedom and dignity, foundational pillars of democracy and civilisation. He unflinchingly espoused this philosophy at his 1964 trial: "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 need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

Mr Mandela's flinty defiance, even behind bars, to white South Africa's repugnant, state-sanctioned system of apartheid served to rally peoples across the globe to inveigh against oppression - of all kinds - and be counted in the fight for freedom and self-determination.

He has a special place in the hearts of Jamaicans because the struggle for dignity had transatlantic dimensions. Jamaica punched above its weight in being the first country to declare a trade embargo against apartheid South Africa and was a loud partner in the fight for equality.

What defines the uniqueness of Nelson Mandela was that 27 years of incarceration did not dull his core beliefs or dissolve his dedication to the mission.

More important, he was not embittered by his long confinement on Robben Island. The tone of Madiba's presidency, after the first free national elections in 1994, ran counter to strong sentiments for an aggressive policy of redistribution and revenge that could have snowballed into widespread civil disturbance.

Redeemability of a people

His pacific posture and appeal for post-apartheid forgiveness and rebuilding were crucial to his faith in the redeemability of a people and nation from an ugly history.

There are few who could contradict the former prime minister of Jamaica, P.J. Patterson's, panegyric to Nelson Mandela that "the entire human race has lost one of the finest mortal beings who ever walked this planet". Nor United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's tribute that Mandela was "a giant for justice and a down-to-earth human inspiration. ... Many around the world were greatly influenced by his selfless struggle for human dignity, equality and freedom."

Amid the eulogies and elegies that will flow, the larger lesson we believe the world must take from the life of Nelson Mandela is that humanity should never surrender to the forces of repression and division - whether on the basis of race, gender, colour, religion, class or sexual orientation.

This is the true legacy of Nelson Mandela - the most extraordinary of ordinary men.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.

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