Today I want to pay tribute to a man who embodied everything that is good and remarkable about human beings. His light burned bright in a world that seemingly has gone mad and his passion for people and their rights to a better life has served as an icon to so many generations. Sadly, Nelson Mandela, this visionary leader and paragon of global stewardship, passed away yesterday at the age of 95.
Mandela was not only a champion of human rights, but also of sustainable development and global stewardship. This dynamic and passionate leader rose to become South Africa's first black president after spending 27 years in prison on charges of crimes against the country's former apartheid government.
After his release in 1990, Nelson Mandela continued crusading against poverty, inequality and racism, and speaking widely about every aspect of sustainable development.
Passionate about advocating "work, bread, water and salt for all" and the need for equal distribution of resources in his homeland, Mandela planted the seeds of what would later blossom into a staunch commitment to the cause of sustainable development. His understanding on all levels of the true meaning of sustainability is echoed in these words:
“I have no hesitation in saying that each one of us is as intimately attached to the soil of this beautiful country as are the famous jacaranda trees of Pretoria and the mimosa trees of the bushveld. Each time one of us touches the soil of this land, we feel a sense of personal renewal. The national mood changes as the seasons change. We are moved by a sense of joy and exhilaration when the grass turns green and the flowers bloom."
Helping to unite humanity in extraordinary ways, on his 89th birthday Nelson Mandela brought together a group of renowned statesmen, human rights advocates and others to form a unique organization known as "The Elders", which have since tackled a variety of pressing world issues including environmental degradation and climate change.
Further championing the global sustainability cause, in 2002 Mandela delivered the keynote speech at the event inaugurating South Africa's WaterDome, in parallel with the landmark World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. During this event, participants from public and private water sector organizations launched and exhibited new water-related technologies, activities, and policies.
A staunch advocate for water resources and sustainability, he became known for speech -- "No Water, No Future".
Mandela was also deeply connected to the earth on a personal level. He was an avid gardener, including throughout his long imprisonment. While at Pollsmoor prison in the 80’s, he argued for the right to plant a garden on the prison's rooftop. He was finally permitted to plant vegetables - "onions, eggplant, cabbage, cauliflower, beans, spinach, carrots, cucumbers, broccoli, beetroot, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, and much more" - in 44-gallon drums which had been cut in half, dragged up to the rooftop and filled with soil. He later wrote about this victory in his autobiography, A Long Walk to Freedom: "To plant a seed, watch it grow, to tend it and then harvest it, offered a simple but enduring satisfaction. The sense of being the custodian of this small patch of earth offered a small taste of freedom."
Millions around the world have been and continue to be inspired by his courage and touched by the compassion of this most extraordinary man. It is for us now, this generation and those generations to come, to honor his memory and fight by carrying on the banner of his spirit and ensuring that humanity always rises to its highest potential. Nelson Mandela, you will be greatly missed.