Like millions of people throughout the world, I mourned the passing of Mr. Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela while also celebrating and being grateful for his life.  Mr. Mandela was accurately described as “one of a kind.” 

It’s a rare person who can witness and be the victim of the abuse and oppression of people of color under the apartheid system in South Africa, be imprisoned for decades for opposing the system but be able to focus on reconciliation with the oppressors when released from prison.  Whether it was forgiveness of the crimes against humanity or the suppression of anger, it took strength and foresight for Mr. Mandela to sit down and peacefully negotiate with the enemy. 

Mr. Mandela was a leader in the African National Congress (ANC), a black organization that actively fought against apartheid, a system comparable to that of Jim Crow in America.  The United States listed ANC as a terrorist group until 2008 even though it had sanctions against the South Africa white minority government because of its apartheid policy. 

In 1964, Mr. Mandela was imprisoned for plotting to overthrow the government. He was imprisoned for 27 years. 

“I do not deny that I planned sabotage.  I did not plan it in a spirit of recklessness nor because I have any love of violence.  I planned it as a result of a calm and sober assessment of the political situation that had arisen after many years of tyranny, exploitation and oppression of my people by the whites.” – report of the  Rivonia trial of Nelson Mandela, The Guardian, April 20, 1964.

During his imprisonment, he thought about other approaches to address apartheid.  Metamorphosis!  “An international campaign lobbied for his release, which was granted in 1990 amid escalating civil strife.”  Mr. Mandela was 71 years old. 

“I was called a terrorist yesterday, but when I came out of jail, many people embraced me, including my enemies, and that is what I normally tell other people who say those who are struggling for liberation in their country are terrorist.” – CNN: One-to-One, May 16, 2000.

In 1994, he was elected the first black president of South Africa in the country’s first democratically free elections.  His government concentrated on ridding the country of apartheid and promoting racial reconciliation.  Metamorphosis.

Of course, there was a lot of strife and politicking not mentioned in this short article, but like Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mr. Mandela’s focus on a peaceful solution brought about positive change. 

“To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity…Our human compassion binds us the one to the other…” – Nelson Mandela from a speech to the Joint Meeting of Congress, 1990.

As Christmas approaches, peace and humanitarianism should be foremost in our minds

Best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Peggy Tarr

Peggy Tarr has been a columnist for the Evanston RoundTable since its founding in 1998. Born in Bruce Springsteen's hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, she graduated from Rutgers University with a degree...