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Mandela Leaves a Formidable Legacy

7/2/2013, 9:03 a.m.

For the past three weeks, the eyes of the world have been on South Africa and its revered leader Nelson Mandela. As the ailing human rights icon battles lung and respiratory problems, South Africans and his admirers and supporters worldwide are praying for his recovery or his peaceful transition.

Mandela, who was elected South Africa’s first black president in 1994, spent 27 years behind bars because he refused to bow, bend or break under the weight of white oppression and he and the African National Congress chose to move from a position of non-violence to armed struggle.

It’s easy to forget the true nature of apartheid with its legally enforced segregation of housing, education and public facilities; the denial of citizenship for people of color; the wanton slaughter of black men, women and children who took to the streets to oppose apartheid; the assassination of black political figures; and the full range of savagery visited on people the Dutch and British found in what became South Africa.

Mandela, affectionately known as “Madiba,” is a giant of the 20th century who has left an indelible mark on his country, the African continent and the world. While he was groomed for leadership as a young man, becoming South Africa’s president was not his intention, but he learned patience and wisdom in prison and his preaching tolerance, reconciliation and peace went a long way to ensuring that his beloved country did not go up in flames.

What is all the more ironic is what Juan Williams shared about Mandela when he and Armstrong Williams served briefly as his correspondence secretaries after his release in 1990.

“… When he was a young man, all he wanted to do was rebel against his parents,” Williams recalled. “He just wanted to leave his family. He didn't want to live in any township, he wanted to go to the big city, which for him was Johannesburg. He wanted to become a prize-fighter, wanted to learn the language of the Dutch settlers, wanted to be a poet. And then he wanted to get what he called a Western-style education. . . ."

South Africa and the world are indeed fortunate that Mandela’s life encompassed so much more than any of those things because his destiny was to become, “Tata” the Father of the Nation.