Johannesburg, South Africa (Dec. 5, 2013) — With the passing on Thursday of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, 95, the world pauses to reflect on the life of an incomparable human rights champion who leaves a legacy of shaping peaceful coexistence to a new generation.
Professor Njabulo Ndebele, Chairman of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, in a statement said that all South Africans and indeed the world join in this profound sense of loss and sadness on the death of a nation’s beloved founder, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.
“Let us stand together now and in the days ahead, and do what needs to be done to honor with dignity Tata Madiba,” he said. “We know you share with many of us the same passionate wish to see Nelson Mandela’s legacy being kept alive and made available to the world.”
The former South African President and anti-apartheid civil rights activist, Mandela, passed away from a lung ailment after recovering briefly several weeks ago in Johannesburg.
As a young lawyer in the 1960s, Mandela’s selfless resistance to apartheid made him a legend outside of his country and vilified within. His was sentenced to life in a South African prison and would serve 27 years until the government relented to external pressures to release him along with other jailed African National Congress members.
By the time Mandela was a free man, he was a living legend, and endeared as Tata, which means father in the Xhosa language of Mandela’s Madiba tribe. He continued working to prevent a violent and bloody end to apartheid in collaboration with the last apartheid President Frederik Willem de Klerk, and find a path of peace and justice in the South African government
Mandela was awarded the Noble Peace Prize in 1993 for his dedication to taking his country from apartheid to democracy. He would become the first Black President of South Africa and chose to serve one term from 1994 to 1999.
In a statement from Washington, President Barack Obama said that at his trial in 1964, Mandela closed his statement from the dock saying, “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. 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 needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die”.
“Nelson Mandela lived for that ideal, and he made it real,” Obama stated. “He achieved more than could be expected of any man. Today, he has gone home. And we have lost one of the most influential, courageous, and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth. He no longer belongs to us — he belongs to the ages.”
The journey from prisoner to President embodied the promise that human beings and countries can change for the better, Obama added.
“His commitment to transfer power and reconcile with those who jailed him set an example that all humanity should aspire to, whether in the lives of nations or our own personal lives,” he said. “And the fact that he did it all with grace and good humor, and an ability to acknowledge his own imperfections, only makes the man that much more remarkable. As he once said, ‘I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying’.”
Drawing on that inspiration, Obama said his first political action was to participate in a protest against apartheid.
“To the people of South Africa, we draw strength from the example of renewal, and reconciliation, and resilience that you made real,” Obama said. “A free South Africa at peace with itself — that’s an example to the world, and that’s Madiba’s legacy to the nation he loved.
Asian Americans Advancing Justice — Los Angeles mourned the passing of Mandela by calling him one of the most iconic human rights leaders of our time. His leadership to end apartheid, or minority white rule over the majority black South African population, while held as a political prisoner for nearly 30 years inspired civil rights activists around the world, including many in the United States.
“President Mandela’s life story has inspired so many people, including, importantly, some of the most powerless and marginalized among us,” said Laboni Hoq, litigation director of Advancing Justice – Los Angeles. “That is because he taught us that one person can make a difference, and that everyone, no matter what their color or stature, deserves to be treated with dignity and equality. These values continue to resonate with the communities we serve.”
After being released from prison, President Mandela emerged as an effective leader who helped his country peacefully transition to a strong, multi-racial democracy that values social and economic as well as political rights.
“President Mandela may be gone but he will never be forgotten,” said Stewart Kwoh, president and executive director of Advancing Justice – Los Angeles. “His spirit lives on in us as we continue to fight against oppression, build multi-racial coalitions, and work toward a more perfect and compassionate multi-racial democracy.”
A statement from the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law said that Mandela focused on dismantling apartheid by addressing issues such as racism, poverty and inequality.
“One of my greatest honors is to live during the same time that Mandela walked this earth; men like him only come once in a lifetime,” said Barbara R. Arnwine, president and executive director, Lawyers’ Committee. “He was a man of great character, displaying tremendous courage, leadership, grace, humility, intellectual powers and an amazing ability to always forgive. There simply is no man quite like Nelson Mandela and his efforts will never go unrecognized. He will be greatly missed and the Lawyers’ Committee will remember him in our work every day.”
The Lawyers’ Committee was active in the Anti-Apartheid Movement through its Southern Africa Project, founded in 1967. Its work played an important role in the ultimate defeat of apartheid in South Africa and in the independence of Namibia.
Requests from lawyers in South Africa and Namibia representing political prisoners were instrumental in the creation of the Southern Africa Project. During its history, the Southern Africa Project, directed by Gay McDougall for its last fourteen years, engaged in virtually every major political trial in South Africa and Namibia. The Project staff repeatedly testified before Congress and the United Nations regarding the subject of its work, and the Project provided legal observers for daily demonstrations at the South African Embassy as part of the “Free South Africa Movement” in the 1980s.
The Lawyers’ Committee traveled all over South Africa to ensure that voting elections were held in a fair manner. Ms. Arnwine had the privilege of interacting with Mr. Mandela on several occasions during this time.
“Every time he would speak, his every word was powerful,” she said. “I was struck at how utterly humble and inspirational he was. The Lawyers’ Committee will remember Nelson Mandela as one of the most gracious men to ever live. We greatly appreciate and admire all the work he has done and we are so honored to have worked with him in South Africa.”
In 1993–1994 the project opened an office in South Africa to assist with the deployment of fair election fact–finding teams and Election Monitoring Teams. In addition, the Project co-sponsored symposia for the purposes of the development of a new South Africa constitution. When Nelson Mandela was elected president in 1994, Gay McDougall was the only American who served on the Independent Electoral Commission. With his election, the Southern Africa Project ended successfully.
Arnwine remembers Mandela speaking at a rally in Washington, D.C. where he recognized the Lawyers’ Committee. “Gay helped to officiate and I and some others from the organization were honored to be special Dias guests!,” she recalls.
It is also meaningful to Ms. Arnwine that her legacy of leading the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, founded at the request of President John F. Kennedy 50 years ago to address racism and discrimination, includes vigorously advocating for Mandela’s freedom over the course of his 27-year imprisonment and also working to combat decades of apartheid. “The world has lost an indelible civil rights warrior,” she added. “He is one of my personal heroes whose unyielding contributions and bitter sacrifices will always hold a special place in my heart and in the hearts of so many others worldwide.”
Rajan Zed, in a statement from Nevada, said that Hindus were saddened by the passing of Mandela.
Zed, president of Universal Society of Hinduism, said the world has lost a unique and brave man whose vision of humanity embraced all peoples and who set a milestone for the world with his efforts in pluralism, common ground, equality, color-blindness and coexistence.
“Mandela, who symbolized the victory of the human spirit, made huge contributions towards creation of just society and pursuance of social justice,” Zed said.
While on an official state visit to Asia, Vice President Joseph Biden started a press conference in Seoul, South Korea, by remembering Mandela as am “who changed the world and the way we see it.”
Biden recalled trying to meet Mandela in prison but instead met him first when the South African leader paid a visit to his office as a U.S. Senator in Washington. During the conversation he asked Mandela why he was not more resentful for being kept in solitary confinement for the most productive years of his life.
“He said, ‘Senator, I became good friends with my jailers. They were just doing their job. When I left, Senator, they all lined up to shake my hand and wish me well. They’re my friends’,” he said.
“My mother used to say, you are defined by your courage and you are redeemed by your loyalty,” Biden said. “Few people I’ve ever met in my life — and I’ve had a chance to meet every major world leader in the past 35 to 40 years — have met that test like Nelson Mandela. His courage was undeniable, and his loyalty to all the people — all the people — of South Africa was redeeming not just for him, but for South Africa.”
U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (MN-5) called Mandela’s life an inspiration.
“He will always be known for the compassion he showed in rebuilding the same South Africa that had taken so much from him,” Ellison said. “No one man can live forever, but the lessons Madiba taught us about truth, justice, and democracy will never fade.”
U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum (MN-5) said the world has lost an icon for justice and a true freedom fighter.
“President Mandela’s courage, determination, and profound sacrifice inspired not only Africans, but a global generation committed to abolishing apartheid,” she said. “I wish to extend my deepest condolences to the people of South Africa for their loss which is truly a loss for the human race.”
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and Co-Chair Sharon Day released a statement saying the world will always remember the legacy of the man who dedicated his life to freedom and equality.
“An oppressive government, 27 years in prison, and a divided nation – none destroyed his determination to see a more just world,” Priebus said. “His legacy is defined by doing what others declared impossible, most notably fighting the evil of apartheid and beginning the healing of a nation.”
“Our hearts and prayers go out to the family and loved ones of Nelson Mandela,” said Co-Chair Day. “He made a profound impact on the global fight for equality and peace. So today, we mourn his passing while also celebrating a life that transformed history.”
Minn. Governor Mark Dayton in his proclamation to keep state flags at half-staff on Sunday, said the United States has lost a close friend, South Africa has lost an incomparable liberator, and the world has lost an inspiration for freedom, justice, and human dignity.
“Nelson Mandela achieved more than could be expected of any man. His own struggle inspired others to believe in the promise of a better world, and the rightness of reconciliation,” the proclamation said. “Through his fierce dignity and unbending will to sacrifice his own freedom for the freedom of others, he transformed South Africa – and moved the entire world. His journey from a prisoner to a President embodied the promise that human beings – and countries – can change for the better.
“His commitment to transfer power and reconcile with those who jailed him set an example that all humanity should aspire to, whether in the life of nations or our own personal lives; and While we mourn his loss, we will forever honor Nelson Mandela’s memory. He left behind a South Africa that is free and at peace with itself – a close friend and partner of the United States. And his memory will be kept in the hearts of billions who have been lifted up by the power of his example; and We will not see the likes of Nelson Mandela again.
“It falls to us to carry forward the example that he set – to make decisions guided not by hate, but by love; to never discount the difference that one person can make; and to strive for a future that is worthy of his sacrifice. For now, let us pause and give thanks for the fact that Nelson Mandela lived – a man who took history in his hands, and bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice.”