When the extraordinary lived among us — Goodbye Mandela
An extraordinary man. Profound in his endurance through decades of captivity (the first ten years in brutal labor, breaking rocks)— and then came something truly startling, forgiveness.
He reconciled with his enemies and the enemies of his people . . . and then worked with them to forge a better way.
The world knows these things, that he prevailed and a hated system was swept away.
What the world may not know is that after achieving his freedom, after his years as leader of South Africa, Mandela attempted to address the AIDS epidemic killing thousands of his countrymen.
Not even ten years ago he was told by his successor in government and as leader of his party to “Sit down, old man!” — when he broached the subject of helping pregnant women obtain drugs to prevent them from passing on the AIDS virus to their fetuses. He was booed by the younger members of his party for addressing the AIDS issue — in 2004!
His son died of the AIDS virus a year later. Through his forthrightness Mandela almost singlehandedly made a taboo subject discussable, and then solutionable.
Think of this: Imprisoned for 27 years. You’ve already forestalled the collapse of your country by reconciling with your enemies. Wouldn’t you be ready to enjoy the praise coming your way? Wouldn’t you possibly want to let others deal with the catastrophes of the day?
If Mandela had chosen to retire to honorary degrees, to basking in accolades, we would still have loved him. But he took on his own party — and the extreme reticence of his own people to discuss sexual matters.
There is where true greatness lives. When you can march so far ahead of your own followers they taunt you. Yet he went there. He marched there. And ultimately brought Africa with him.
I know he was mortal, but what he has inspired in us is immortal.