Last night I gathered with a couple of friends and we debated the direction the World is heading (I lead such an exciting life!). There was a general consensus that human society is not only on the wrong track but is ultimately heading for a major fall from grace and the debate turned to the small things we, as individuals, can do to at least cushion the blow.
One thing I argued was that we needed a figure who could reach out to the people and lead them through the dark times. Throughout history such iconic people have been vital in not only rallying supporters to their cause but in proving to the powers that be that change can be achieved against overwhelming odds.
Sadly, such leaders are few and far between, largely because those they "fight" will use any means necessary to maintain the status quo and to crush those who strive for change. And for those that do eventually achieve victory against overwhelming odds, too many succumb to the allure of power and turn against their principles.
Nelson Mandela was the rare example of a leader that did not only overcome unimaginable oppression, but who did so without allowing his own ideals to become poisoned by bitterness at his lot in life.
At the time when the hope for a new America was being snuffed out in Dallas, the fascist regime of South Africa was preparing to destroy the symbol of hope for a better Africa. That Nelson Mandela, a year younger than JFK, and from a background so vastly different than America's then great son, did not allow 27 years of imprisonment to crush his hope for a better future is profound.
That a man can spend 27 years unjustly imprisoned and emerge without a shred of hatred towards those who oppressed him is a testament to his humanity. That he spoke of reconciliation and building a World of no more injustice, rather than simply look for justice for himself is an act of selflessness few of us can imagine possible. That a man so heinously victimised because of the colour of his skin should not succumb to hatred or fear of those of a different race is a lesson for everyone.
And let us not forget that this was a man who when he achieved power, did not cling on to keep it. He achieved democracy and maintained it.
Shaped by a century dominated by war, holocaust and fascist ideology Nelson Mandela, along with Mahatma Gandhi, is proof that a person of peace can defeat a message of violence, oppression and hate.
That Nelson Mandela died on the anniversary of my own Fathers passing, is poignant on a very personal level to me, and today I think of that day in 1990 when I sat with my Dad, watching the grainy footage of this elderly man being released from prison. I didn't fully understand the meaning of what I was watching, but just looking at the smile on my Dad's face said it all. This was a moment for the ages. A moment of hope at the end of a century of turmoil.
RIP Madiba, quite simply the greatest person of the 20th Century.