The news of Nelson Mandela’s passing on Thursday in South Africa has sent the world into mourning. The former political prisoner who rose up to become South Africa’s first black president and architect of a multi-racial democracy died peacefully surrounded by friends and family at age 95.
“The time for the healing of the wounds has come. The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come,” Mandela said during his 1994 Presidential acceptance speech.
An advocate of peace and reconciliation, Mandela spent his life building those bridges, first among the people of South Africa and then the world.
“I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people,” Mandela stressed when asked of his life’s work. “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.”
On the international stage, he called on leaders not to turn their backs on the AIDS crisis and spoke out against the poverty and injustice that was crippling the African continent.
“Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice,” he insisted. “Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.”
On the night of Mandela’s death in Soweto, Johannesburg fellow South Africans gathered to honor their leader with song, joining in tearful refrains of “Mandela you brought us peace.” It was here where Mandela spent his early years, first witnessing the injustices of poverty and the oppressive force of a racially divided state.
On Vilakazi Street one mourner, draped in flags, said the news of Mandela’s death after a prolonged illness caused him mixed feelings. “I am happy that he is resting,” Molebogeng Ntheledi said, “but I am also sad to see him go.”
Yet while the world may be mourning the loss of a leader and symbol of peace and reconciliation, Mandela, it appears, was rather matter of a fact about his own passing.
“Death is something inevitable,” Mandela told an interviewer in 1994. “When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort and that is, therefore, why I will sleep for the eternity.”