As everybody and his brother has said today, Nelson Mandela was a great man, one of the greatest of the 20th century. I’d like to point out that, unlike many great men, Nelson Mandela was also by almost any measure a good man.
Whatever you might think of his renunciation of Gandhian pacifism in 1964, and acceptance of violent warfare as a necessary means to win freedom for South Africans who were not white, Mandela also consistently throughout his adult life refused to return racist hate for the racist hate. When he might have started a race war to free South Africa from his cell in South Africa’s notorious Robben Island prison, he would not. After independence, he opposed the efforts of many in his own party to hold highly politicized “war crimes” trials of white South African politicians from the apartheid era, and instead supported the formation of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which has since been copied repeatedly. Although Mandela was not a saint, he was notorious first and foremost for making friends of enemies and forgiving people you would have expected only a saint to be capable of forgiving.
In 1964, when he was on trial for sedition and believed that he was likely to be executed, Mandela gave a three hour speech as his final statement. The final paragraph of that speech comes as close to summarizing what Mandela most deeply believed in as anything he has ever said. He refused his lawyer’s plea to remove this paragraph:
During my lifetime I have dedicated my life 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 will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realized. But, My Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.
I intended to post links to obits, but there are so many that I decided to let those who want information to find it for themselves. :-)