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The psychological legacy of Nelson Mandela

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On Thursday, December 5, 2013, Nelson Mandela died. The whole world is mourning.

Nelson Mandela will always be remembered as being instrumental and vital to ending Apartheid in South Africa. "Apartheid" as most of us know, was the state-sanctioned separation, or "apart-ness" of the native black Africans from the European-descended Caucasian minority which ruled the country.

Apartheid developed during the first part of the 20th century by the white minority rulers of the Republic of South Africa ( These white rulers were descended from the German, Dutch and Huguenot farmers who settled there during the 17th century collectively called Boers (

The English also colonized the area and wars broke out between them and the Boers over the discovery of good and diamonds and the rich farm land. Eventually, the white minority coalesced, and with the superior military might, controlled the area.

As the native Africans sought to emphasize their rights, the white minority increasingly oppressed their efforts. Laws were continually passed restricting both the Native Africans' rights and their travel, as well as their access to education and resources.

In response, the African National Congress emerged from the efforts of the Natives to express their rights. Nelson Mandela joined this movement in 1944 after experiencing racism himself. The ANC at first used the non-violent protest methods and ideas of Mahatma Ghandi. These protests, however, we're met with violence as many Natives were brutally killed or imprisoned by the government, and gave rise to more and more restrictions. (

Nelson Mandela felt that the non-violent approach was not working and became more militant. He and a small group, an off-shoot of the ANC started using guerrilla tactics to attacks government structures.

He and the group were eventually caught and after a few trials in 1963, they were sentenced to life imprisonment. Nelson Mandela remained there for the next 27 years. Meanwhile, he never wavered in his resolve for a free South Africa in which his people would enjoy liberty and the freedom to pursue their dreams. Others fought long and hard, and with world support, finally in 1990 was released from prison the ANC was unbanned and he won his freedom. (

"In 1993, Mandela and South African President F.W. de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to dismantle the country's apartheid system. In 1994, Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa's first black president." (

Nelson Mandela's actions are an example to us all. This is not just for the political steadfastness to realize the dream of freedom for his people, but also for how he acted after his release as the Native African majority took control of their country.

This is a man who choose what we might call the "high" road. Although he had seen wanton state-sanctioned murder and been imprisoned for his desire for freedom, he did not seek revenge. He did not emerge from a long prison sentence bitter and vindictive, but rather as a man of peace seeking a fair government and liberty for his people.

One might say that Nelson Mandela achieved greatness by being an icon and shining example of forgiveness.

According to the Mayo clinic, "...forgiveness is a decision to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge" ( Many mental health counselors help their patients and clients achieve forgiveness to work through issues.

Many people who have been mistreated or maligned develop an anger and resentment towards their perpetrators. Judith Orloff, M.D., an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA and the author of Emotional Freedom, ( discusses the repercussions of feeling vindictive towards someone when wronged someone. The victim will feel anger, which causes stress and thus affects their health, their ability to concentrate, and general well-being.

So generally, the victims continues to be a victim long after the original insult. One of the problems with achieving forgiveness is that it is perceived as giving the offender a "free pass", letting them "get away with it".

Looking at the example of Nelson Mandela, he achieved a lot more by forgiving than he would have with vengeance. On his release from prison and ascent towards the presidency of the first free South Africa, he achieved peace for everyone. South Africa can now accomplish more for its people whereas civil war would have only plunged the country into a state of chaos that would have resulted in more death and destruction, and economic repression. And this is the real reason why we should all work towards forgiveness.

On his official biography site, they say that "Nelson Mandela never wavered in his devotion to democracy, equality and learning. Despite terrible provocation, he never answered racism with racism." ( We can all learn a lot about how forgiveness achieves peace and prosperity from this great man.



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