Poverty would not entrap him, the vile system of apartheid could not destroy him and the bars of a jail cell were never able to imprison his awesome spirit and amazing mind.
And although he has succumbed to death, not even the grave can entomb that extraordinary passion he had for his fellow citizens of South Africa and, indeed, all of humanity.
Nelson Mandela, throughout his long, productive and inspiring life, refused to yield to hatred and racism, even though those evil forces were constantly unleashed against him. Despite his travails, he had a burning love for a country whose oppressive government showed no love or respect toward him — and millions of others who looked like him — for most of his life.
The freedom fighter, a symbol of humankind’s resistance to tyranny and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, died Thursday at his home outside Johannesburg at the age of 95, surrounded by loved ones, while millions across his native land prayed not so much for a recovery but a “peaceful transition.”
South African President Jacob Zuma said on hearing the news of Mandela’s death, “Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost their father.”
And the world has lost a gentle warrior who was a mighty force for justice.
People around the globe are in mourning for this giant of a public figure, who on his extraordinary journey taught us patience and persistence, love and understanding, forgiveness and reconciliation.
After spending 27 years in prison, including 18 years on the desolate Robben Island, Mandela remarkably emerged without bitterness and with a determination that he would work to see a democratic, united South Africa that would not devolve into civil war.
He joined with President F.W. de Klerk, the man who released him from prison and was his co-laureate for the Nobel Prize, in dismantling apartheid.
A year after becoming the country’s first black president, a feat Mandela could not have imagined when he became the first member of his family to enroll in school, the government established South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
That panel was not set up to prosecute individuals and mete out punishment, but to discover the truth and begin the process of healing the nation.
After leaving office, Mandela still spent much of his time raising money and awareness for people and causes all over the world, including joining the fight against HIV/AIDS, a disease that claimed the life of his son.
He also worked to ensure other countries embraced South Africa as a member of the family of nations.
This true citizen of the world has left us an incredible legacy, one that should be emulated.
In 2009, on his 90th birthday, the United Nations declared July 18 as Nelson Mandela International Day and asked that each year people devote just 67 minutes to helping others.
That’s compared to the 67 years Mandela had spent fighting for human rights.
It would seem that that kind of observance would be the least we could do to honor the memory of this great man.