Voice for freedom and equality

As most of us know Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (1918-2013) was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, political leader, and philanthropist who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He was the country's first black head of state and the first elected in a fully representative democratic election.

He was arrested and imprisoned in 1962, and subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment for conspiring to overthrow the state following the Rivonia Trial between 9 October 1963 and 12 June 1964. Mandela served 27 years in prison.

Truly he was unequaled patron saint of equality, peace, and human rights. But while the body might be gone, the spirit remains forever with us — a spirit that not only changed political history, but also tirelessly elevated humanity into a higher version of itself, writes Maria Popova,in Brainpickings.

It is inspiring to pay attention to his inauguration speech, delivered on May 10, 1994, where headdresses the end of apartheid in words at once timeless and timely, ringing with soul-stirring resonance. It speaks to our contemporary world struggling with various the civil rights issues.

He recalls: “Out of the experience of an extraordinary human disaster that lasted too long, must be born a society of which all humanity will be proud.

The time for the healing of the wounds has come. The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come. The time to build is upon us.”

In his 1995 autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom Mandela speaks to the conditioning that produces both love and hate: No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.

He echoes Bertrand Russell’s timeless philosophy of education as the foundation of the good life and writes: “Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farmworkers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.”

But perhaps most poignant of all is Mandela’s remark on the never-ending journey of freedom and human rights: “I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come.

But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.” As noted by Popova, Mandela, “like many of history’s greatest luminaries, sees mistakes and failure as an iterative tool of success rather than an indignity to be avoided.” So he exhorts emphatically and passionately: “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

Today we require political, religious and cultural leaders who will stand courageously for freedom and equality for all. We need leaders who are willing to suffer for the cause of the people. Persons who have accepted their failures and go on. Persons who are committed till the end for freedom of all. They can be true inspiration for the whole world.

 (The writer is professor of science and religion and author of Between Before and Beyond!)