The world “shall never see the likes of Nelson Mandela again.” Those were among the many words of praise issued from President Barack Obama in reflection on the life of South Africa’s first black President. In a time in which many thought there would be few other firsts in our lifetime, the sight of America’s first Black President memorializing the “first” of another country is memorable in itself.
Accompanied by three former Presidents of the United States, and heads of state from around the world where persons of color are still respected, President Obama used the standard words and quotes taken from “Madiba” after nearly a century of life.
To say that one’s life can take an unpredictable path is to speak of the life of Nelson Mandela. Born during World War One, black, a herder, in the middle of no-where , at the bottom of a continent dominated by European colonialists who viewed the peoples of the continent as savages to be dominated and taken advantage of.
For white South Africans, it was the “forgiveness” doctrine undertaken by Madiba and fulfilled with the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that forever sealed his status as the “Father” of South Africa. Forgiveness to his captors, his oppressors and his detractors was the means by which Madiba lived the last 23 years of his life.
Born Rolihlahla Mandela and 45 years old when imprisoned on Robin Island, this decedent of the Madiba clan in Transkei, was given the name Nelson by his primary school teacher, who could not resist giving the children of Africa “Christian names.”
The face of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was then Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu, but the engine was that of Madiba Mandela. No other nation on earth had sought to take on such a painful look at itself and then move forward. Japan came close at the end of World War II but only at the behest of its American conqueror.
But the final test for Mandela was the recognition of his own mortality and worth. After just one term as President, he stepped away from the power, the limelight and left others to continue down the path of democracy and opportunity.
Imprisoned at age 45. Released at age 72. Elected President at age 76. Elder statesman from age 80 until 95. The world “shall never see the likes of Nelson Mandela again.”