Nelson Mandela should continue to inspire leaders


Column | Frontlines


Most of the time, I swipe away breaking news alerts without an afterthought, but Thursday evening, a sharp pang of sorrow shot through me when I read about Nelson Mandela’s death.

It had been coming. Not many people live to the age of 95. But when Thursday night ended, after the BBC, The New York Times and other media outlets aired specials about Mandela’s life minutes after his death, the noise quieted. Mandela wasn’t even trending on Twitter anymore.

It is important to remember the obstacles he endured to bring peace and equality not only to South Africa, but also to the world. I want to share the last words of a poem my brother introduced to me, before Mandela slowly slips from people’s minds: “I am the master of my fate: / I am the captain of my soul.”

That was from William Ernest Henley’s poem, “Invictus.” After reading it myself, I went on to learn that it was this poem that empowered the first post-apartheid black president in South Africa to endure his 27 years in prison.

As the world honors Mandela by flying flags at half-staff, or like Kashmir, setting a five-day mourning period for Mandela, according to The Times of India, it is crucial to remember what it is about Mandela that brings tides of sorrow from all across the world after his death and why we should celebrate his life.

The New York Times’ headline read “Mandela’s Death Leaves South Africa Without Its Moral Center,” and with other news outlets, Mandela is associated with his forgiveness, compassion and his morality.

“His decades in prison and his insistence on forgiveness over vengeance made him a potent symbol of the struggle to end this country’s brutally codified system of racial domination, and of the power of peaceful resolution in even the most intractable conflicts,” The New York Times read.

Breaking the cycle of hatred, Mandela endured 27 years in Robben Island Prison, Pollsmoor Prison and Victor Verster Prison and emerged with a burning love for his fellow South Africans. He worked and helped create South Africa’s first democratic government and became president. Mandela was ready to do anything to achieve his goals. His speech during his trial in Pretoria, South Africa, is evidence.

“I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities,” Mandela said. “It is an ideal which I hope to live for. But, my lord, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Self-mastery allowed Mandela to forgive those who oppressed him. Perhaps we cannot control what happens in our lives, but we can control how we react to them. Like Mandela, we can control our emotions and take the high road rather than fall back into a cycle of hatred. Remember, you are the master of your fate and the captain of your soul.

“Do not judge me by my successes,” Mandela said. “Judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”

It is this lack of fear to try, to fail and to get back up that has struck the hearts of many and turned Mandela into the archetypal hero.

President Barack Obama said the world would “not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again,” but I hope he is wrong. The world needs more people like Nelson Mandela.

Julian Chokkattu is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies and English. He is the News Editor at The Daily Targum.


By Julian Chokkattu

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