Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013

People all over the world are mourning the passing of freedom fighter and former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela, who died on December 5th after a long illness.  During his 27-year incarceration by the apartheid government in Pretoria, the revolutionary leader not only survived his long ordeal but  devoted himself to defeating the race-based state from his prison cell  — a determination that led after decades to a historic, peaceful revolution, victory for the African National Congress in 1994, Mandela’s own freedom and election to the presidency, and the dissolution of apartheid.  In his 1995 memoir Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela reflected on the meaning of his struggle from the standpoint of this triumph:

“It was during those long and lonely years that my hunger for the freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom of all people, white and black. I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed. A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.

“When I walked out of prison, that was my mission, to liberate the oppressed and the oppressor both. Some say that has now been achieved. But I know that that is not the case. The truth is that we are not yet free; we have merely achieved the freedom to be free, the right not to be oppressed. We have not taken the final step of our journey, but the first step on a longer and even more difficult road. 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. The true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning.”