Nelson Mandela achieved something unique: he was all things to all people. To the oppressed people under Apartheid he was a major figure in the struggle for liberation. For white South Africans he provided leadership which brought a peaceful transition to democracy, when many expected civil war. In the world outside South Africa he was a symbol of a fight for freedom that almost everyone could identify with. Though some people try to be possessive about him and claim him for one group or another, more than anyone else in our time, Mandela belongs to everyone, in South Africa and throughout the world.
From my viewpoint, what has placed Mandela in this unique position and makes him such a profound example for the rest of us was his adherence to principles. He held the principles on which he based his life as more important to him than his own life, which he not only claimed he was willing to sacrifice, but said so in a situation, his trial, where the claim itself could have cost him his life.
Politics is a game in which pragmatism, ideology and personal gain can easily overcome principles, and very often do. Mandela did not let his own personal interests corrupt the work of his principles. His role was to help bring about the liberation of South Africa in such a way that there was a possibility for all its citizens to fulfil their dreams. He achieved this, and then stepped down. But the work has only just begun. The vision of a non-racial democracy could hardly be further away than it is now.
Following his example, our duty to ourselves, as I see it, is to develop principles that express and articulate our own unique selves, and live according to them. By doing this, we can begin to repair the ruptured integrity of the country, and begin to build the non-racial democracy that was at the heart of the vision of those who struggled for liberation. •