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What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.
The world joined together in mourning on Thursday after learning of Nelson Mandela’s death circulated. The news warranted an outpour of support from officials and individuals in nations across the world.
Mandela was born in South Africa in 1918 and lived 95 years before dying peacefully in his home. It has been said that the dash between one’s birth year and death year on tombstones, memorials, and the like is the defining mark of the life lived by an individual. The character of a person is engraved in their headstone in that simple symbol.
Mandela recognized the importance of living life to its full potential and aiding others not because of coercion, but as the result of a loving and compassionate heart. A South African photographer, whose parents knew Nelson Mandela, tells a story about Mandela helping a white woman stranded on the side of a Johannesburg road with car trouble. Mandela fixed the vehicle and the woman offered to pay him, but he refused. When asked why he helped if he did not want any payment, he replied, “Because you were stranded at the side of the road.”
Jessie Duarte, a personal assistant from the early 1990s, said that Mandela “didn’t ever want to hurt people’s feelings. He never really cared about what great big people think of him, but he did care about what small people thought of him.” A man who spent ten years imprisoned alongside Mandela said that he “was impressed mainly by the warmth and genuine interest” he noticed during his time with Mandela.
The dash that will forever be attached to Nelson Mandela’s name tells an extraordinary story. Even from a young age, Mandela fought against racism in the world. While in college, he was expelled after joining a student protest (he did eventually earn his degree through the University of South Africa).
From 1942 to the months before his death, Mandela was very much involved on the political scene. His face became a symbol for the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Apartheid in South Africa was similar to segregation in the southern United States. The South African government enforced this racial segregation through legislation and Mandela recognized the injustice in this practice.
For the most part, his protests were civil. However, he did receive military training and was prepared to use force to overthrow the prejudiced government. His conflict with the South African government earned him 27 years total in prison time. On June 11, 1964, Mandela was convicted of sabotage and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Mandela’s desire for equality was so strong that he rejected three offers of conditional release; he refused to renounce his actions. Finally, in February of 1990, he received unconditional release. Four years later, he became the first democratically elected president of South Africa. Mandela’s election marked the end of the suppressive white rule in the country. At the age of 76, Mandela was able to vote for the first time in his life.
He served one term as president and stepped down in 1999. In the years following he continued advocating for equality through the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and the Nelson Mandela Foundation. The last lines of his biography on his website read, “Nelson Mandela never waivered in his devotion to democracy, equality and learning. Despite terrible provocation, he never answered racism with racism. His life has been an inspiration to all who are oppressed and deprived, to all who are opposed to oppression and deprivation.”
What story will your dash tell?