The Times West Virginian

Opinion

December 11, 2013

Mandela’s generosity of spirit will be lasting legacy

“A master of forgiveness.”

“Our greatest son.”

“The last great liberator of the 20th century.”

Countless words have been used to describe Nelson Mandela in the days since his passing last week.

It’s a fitting tribute to the man who meant so much to so many.

For decades, Mandela’s message was of peace and justice. He served as South Africa’s first black president and spent nearly a third of his life as a prisoner of apartheid — the cruel system of white minority rule — yet sought to win over its defeated guardians in a relatively peaceful transition of power that inspired the world.

And as The Associated Press reported, it was Mandela’s “generosity of spirit” that made him a “global symbol of sacrifice and reconciliation in a world often jarred by conflict and division.”

From heads of state to young children in his home country, Mandela’s passing was felt around the globe.

“We’ve lost our greatest son. Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father,” South African president Jacob Zuma said when announcing Mandela’s death on television last week. “Although we knew that this day would come, nothing can diminish our sense of a profound and enduring loss.”

As Zelda la Grange, Mandela’s personal assistant for almost two decades, pointed out, Mandela inspired people to forgive, reconcile, care, be selfless, tolerant, and to maintain dignity no matter what the circumstances.    

“His legacy will not only live on in everything that has been named after him, the books, the images, the movies. It will live on in how we feel when we hear his name, the respect and love, the unity he inspired in us as a country, but particularly how we relate to one another,” she said.

On Tuesday, that legacy was celebrated as thousands gathered at a memorial service marked by singing and dancing in tribute to the fallen leader.

“Around the world today, men and women are still imprisoned for their political beliefs, and are still persecuted for what they look like, or how they worship, or who they love,” President Barack Obama said during the eulogy. “We will never see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. But let me say to the young people of Africa, and young people around the world — you can make his life’s work your own.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Mandela “one of our greatest teachers,” saying “he taught by example. He sacrificed so much ... for freedom and equality, for democracy and justice.”

Mandela’s story won’t soon be forgotten, and we hope his legacy continues to influence and inspire people for generations to come.

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