Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela — an Icon, our hero.
We will be eternally grateful for the choices Madiba made in his life. As with all of us, some of those choices would have been regretted, some would be questionable, some would be just plain wrong. But the choices that shaped his life, and ultimately shaped this nation of ours, are the only ones that really matter. Those choices and the values that informed them are the reason why the world joins us now, watching over him with bated breath, praying for him in what appear to be the last moments of his life.
His choice to use violence in the struggle against apartheid will forever be debated. But there is no doubt that the decision was not a selfish, arm’s-length one. He made the decision selflessly, knowing full well what the result could be. As he said during the Rivonia trial, the ideal of a democratic and free society “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.”
Tata’s choice of reconciliation rather than justice and revenge has also been criticised. Revenge is so much easier (in the short term). Its principles are clear, and the decisions straight forward. Things are either right or wrong, black or white; it’s as simple as that. “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” There is nothing complicated about that. Mercy and reconciliation are complicated. They are messy. They take courage and selflessness. They demand a long view when much of the world prefers short-term, quick-fix solutions.
To forgive a personal insult or a physical wound is difficult, but to forgive the hurts done to others—the murder of a parent; the torture of a child—these take determination and courage. To forgive the oppression of a people that would affect generations to come; that takes courage and wisdom beyond the ordinary, outside of the norm. Having made this choice, Madiba looked for ways to express it, to embody reconciliation as a way of life. He attended the Rugby World Cup final in 1995 and handed over the trophy to the victorious Springbok captain. He visited the widow of Hendrik Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid, and PW Botha (the Groot Krokodil), the last apartheid Prime Minister, and first executive State President. Such acts appear trivial but they are the deeply symbolic acts of mercy and reconciliation.
For these and other choices, Madiba, we salute you. We give thanks for your life; we will be forever grateful for the price you paid to bring peace to our land, South Africa. May we, your children, dare even half as much. May God grant you peace and rest. And may we find the strength and courage to make the choices that our times demand of us for the sake of our children and our children’s children.