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Life lessons from Madiba

Dec 10, 2013 11:15 am | Sam Macdonald

On Dec. 5, South Africa, and the world, lost a great man and one of the greatest heroes to ever walk the earth. Nelson Mandela, at 95 years of age, passed away

It shouldn’t have surprised anyone. He was dealing with a pesky three-year lung infection, among other health problems. And thought his death was a jarring saddening occurrence, Mandela’s life, achievements, and character are an important lesson in and of themselves, on the importance of human resiliency.

Mandela’s achievements in the face of institutional and political racism stand on high with the likes of those of Rosa Parks, or Martin Luther King, Jr.

Mandela was the first democratically elected black president of South Africa. That alone is enough for accolades in the brutal legacy of distrust, instability and racial tension in which apartheid left the country.

A member of the African National Coalition party (ANC), he tackled the racist, social inequality of apartheid during its rise to prominence and incorporation into the political and social fabric of South Africa 1948.

Throughout the remainder of the forties, in the fifties, and until the early sixties, Mandela participated in an increasingly desperate struggle to wrest political and social power out of the right wing white minority African National Party. This struggle eventually earned him accusations of treason.

When I was in high school, it was in one of my history classes that I learned about Mandela in depth for the first time. I was in awe of his tenacity, of how willing he was to always stick to his guns even when doing so condemned him to almost 27 years in prison, where they went out of their way to treat him like garbage for who he was.

He could have run, he could have just sopped objecting, he could have disavowed himself his political ties to save his skin, but he did none of those things.

What I admired most about Mandela is what he accomplished after almost decades in prison – he took up the fight once he was free again.

He fought the power all the way into a cell, and then came out swinging. He won, the president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, and setting up a multiracial democratic government, abolishing apartheid and working to heal the social wounds it inflicted upon the country.

By never losing sight of his beliefs and morals, by never forgetting who he was, Mandela went from being enemy of the state to leader of the state. The Afrikaners and racists who ran the show couldn’t break him – not in or out of prison. No abuse or colonialist racist bullying could deter him.

It’s not easy to go against the grain. It’s not easy to stick to your guns and challenge what is orthodoxy, to stand up for what you believe in, even if it’s outlawed.

Call it typical teenage rebelliousness, but out of all the historical greats I learned about in school, Nelson Mandela was one of my biggest heroes. And today, as I reflect on all I’ve learned, from learning about him, I can say with certitude, he still is.

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