Mandela: A Reflection

I will start by saying that this is not another Nelson Mandela eulogy. Not that it is not a worthy subject, it is, but it is also a well explored topic. My aim is different.

I will start by saying that I was born in 1988. Mandela’s story is one that I cannot claim to have lived through. He was freed in 1990, elected in 1994 and his mandate as President of South Africa ended in 1999, when I was eleven years old. I was not yet keen on international politics.

Having established that premise, I will add that, for me, Mandela has always been sort of a myth. A man, with an incredible story, unwavering will and the kindest of souls. One capable of putting an end to a racist regime that was supported by several important international actors. One that after 27 years of suffering was able to forgive. I am 25. 27 years is more than a lifetime to me and I find myself asking the question: would I have forgiven?

The saddening fact is that, when asking the same question, most of us would answer no. Most would seek some sort of retribution, be it physical (revenge) or monetary (via a lawsuit, which is something very common in western countries) compensation.

The most special thing about Mandela was that he was a man that we cannot be. Even if it is within our reach. Forgiveness, compassion, love are all taught to us when we are young and yet we seem to be unable to apply them in real life. An that is why there are so few examples of men of the likes of Mandela.

My reflection on this matter leads me to the point where I am forced to conclude: it must be a mess of a world, the one we live in, if truly good people, or truly good world leaders are the exception and not the rule. I find myself saddened by this fact.

The current world trend seems to be directing towards a more uneven world, even if the world economy seems to be balancing itself, with emerging markets growing at faster pace than that of traditional powers. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Unemployment is ravaging through Europe, affecting more and more young and, most of all, educated people. The result is that good examples are increasingly harder to find as our survival instincts surface in an more selfish world.

It is a grim diagnosis that points towards a future from which it is hard to expect something good. And I have no magic solution. It is a question for which I do not know the answer. I have been thinking about this since I got the news Mandela was dead and I am yet unable to provide a reply.

However, I am certain that I can do more and maybe that will help, even if just a little. As Gandhi (to whom Mandela is often compared) once said: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”

After his death, USA Today wrote that Mandela transformed himself and his country. Maybe that is where it all began. Maybe it is where it needs to start. And maybe, it is just another part of Mandela’s legacy, the one we should treasure the most.


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