Nelson Mandela: A Man of His Word, in His Own Words

The world mourns Nelson Mandela's passing Wednesday, but, too, celebrates his life and accomplishments. From "the world's most famous political prisoner" to the President of South Africa that abolished apartheid, Mandela's struggle for equal rights is unparalleled in its scope and span. Mandela spent 27 years in prison for standing up to the minority whites in his country who stripped South Africa's majority of basic human rights through racial segregation for over 50 years.  After his release and eventual election in 1994, Mandela acheived what he and so many others had suffered to obtain.

So here, in celebration, a few of his brightest moments of inspiration — standing in front of thousands — to address the good and evil of our world. Also, a few words from former President Bill Clinton on why Mandela mattered so much to so many:

Perhaps Nelson Mandela's most memorable and oft-quoted speeches came in court, when he told his accusers that the freedom of all South Africans was one in which "I am prepared to die." More importantly, apartheid's abolition was also a cause that he was prepared to live his life to pursue.

It takes well over five minutes of exuberant cheering, joyful chanting, singing and shouts of glee before Nelson Mandela is able to step to the podium, don his sunglasses, and deliver this speech to the thousands in attendance at Wembley Stadium. After 27 years in South African prison, however, the five-plus minutes of adoration and appreciation were certainly long overdue.

As part of the International Tribute to Free South Africa on April 4, 1990, just two months after his release from prison, the speech was Mandela's first major international appearance. Appropriately enough, he used his time to praise the work of others in his absence, and to spread the optimism and resolve that was necessary to ultimately tackle apartheid's rule in South Africa. Ultimately, this particular speech won't be remembered by what was said by Mandela, but what the world as a whole had to say, cheer, sing and chant about him.

From Mandela's speech at his 1994 inaugural celebration, in his own words:

The time for the healing of the wounds has come. The moment to bridge the chasms thWe have, at last, achieved our political emancipation. We pledge ourselves to liberate all our people from the continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender and other discrimination . . . We commit ourselves to the construction of a complete, just and lasting peace.

President Bill Clinton on President Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, South Africa, July 19, 2003

After all President Mandela has endured and given to South Africa, to the people of this continent and to the world, no one would have begrudged him a quiet and peaceful retirement. But that was not for him. Like the old man in Dylan Thomas’s famous poem, “he refused to go gentle into that good night”, yet neither did he rage against the dying of the light. Instead he simply soldiered on, raging instead against injustice and leading us toward the light.

Toward protecting the environment, reducing poverty, inspiring young people to civic service, resolving conflicts in Africa and the world over, fighting AIDS and most important of all reminding us every step of the way, that the most difficult changes in life involve changing ourselves from the inside out. Though his step may be a bit slower now, his voice still soars with conviction and vision, his eyes still burn with spirit and resolve, and his work still inspires the world.

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Brandon Perkins
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