Losing a Shining Light

“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.” — Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)

December 5th, Nelson Mandela, chief architect of the successful anti-apartheid movement, and first black South African President died.  Throughout his life, even when he was jailed on Robben Island for 27 years, he preached non-violence as the solution for South Africa’s racist polices of apartheid.

I recall taking an undergraduate class at Oberlin (don’t ask the year) that discussed whether companies should disinvest from South Africa to send a message, or should follow a policy of constructive engagement.  People were split on the issue, I was split on the issue.  Debates raged and protests where held at Oberlin’s campus, sometimes by both sides.  There were no easy clear answers.

There was, though, this popular song that was played everywhere and I danced to more than once.  (And if you just clicked the link to listen, perhaps I have dated myself).

Methods and songs aside, everyone agreed that apartheid was wrong and had to be addressed.  (For a good timeline of apartheid look here.)  Finally in December 1993  the first interim constitution was ratified granting South African blacks the right to vote.  And on May 10, 1994, Mandela was elected President of South Africa, without a war.

But Mandela was not always a saint in the eyes of the United States.  In the 1980’s President Reagan had the African National Congress (ANC) declared a terrorist organization.  Mandela was a member of the ANC for most of his life, and a past president.  As late as 2008 the ANC was still on the terrorist watch list, according to this article.

But through his determination for freedom and equality, there can be no arguing that Mandela helped free his country from institutional racism and oppression.  And on his passing several notable professors here at Columbia reflected on his life and legacy.  Including our own Morton Deutsch.

But perhaps it can best be put this way:

Mr. Mandela was more than one of the greatest pillars of our time,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his speech at the [memorial] service. “He was one of our greatest teachers. He taught by example. He sacrificed so much … for freedom and equality, for democracy and justice.”

What do you think??

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