Today, the world mourns the loss of former South African President Nelson Mandela. His story is one of struggle, hardship, and self-sacrifice in the name of freedom and equality of opportunity for all people.
We recognize Mandela for his commitment to spreading democracy to his people, his country and the world.
Below are words he spoke in 1964 during his trial on charges that he plotted to overthrow the country’s apartheid government:
During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. 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.
We highlight that Mandela’s struggle for equality focused on ensuring that all South Africans could enjoy inalienable rights and equality of treatment under the law and in society. He led the nation in teaching the lesson that a truly free society flourishes when all of its members can pursue their dreams and desires unencumbered by the unfair, unequal restraints of government.
We underscore in his words, his emphasis on equality of opportunity. The rise in a class of black businessmen, educators, professionals and leaders demonstrates that when given the chance all people can achieve success. The government does not need to give a lift to any group of people, but to break down the barriers that separate all people from engaging equally in the fields of commerce, academia, and life.
While celebrated and respected as a hero now, at the time of his trial and imprisonment, many outside of South Africa were conflicted about his actions and intentions. That the anti-apartheid movement received help from communist countries caused many Americans to view Mandela with skepticism and the movement with concern –at best.
Overtime, U.S. presidents from the left and right courageously embraced Mandela and the struggle for an anti-apartheid South Africa. When the peaceful transition to power took place, and the U.S. understood Mandela’s espoused views of tolerance, forgiveness, democracy and diversity, we embraced him and the cause for equality in South Africa.
The struggle for democracy is never an easy battle. The blood of American Revolutionaries was spilled from Maine to Virginia and again less than a hundred years later to unite the nation. It would still take another century before for the full rights to all citizens to be achieved. The patriots who contributed to our struggle are too numerous to name.
South Africa’s fight for democracy could not have happened without the actions and sacrifice of Nelson Mandela. He joins a cadre of leaders in history that have advanced the cause of freedom and equality. For this he will not be forgotten.