December 11, 2013

Milwaukee Courier

Legislatively Speaking: Celebrating the Life of Nelson Mandela

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

I am deeply saddened by the passing of Nelson Mandela. Mandela, a brilliant, courageous, and charismatic political figure, united South Africa under the most improbable circumstances of rampant racism and widespread government corruption and oppression. One of Mandela’s most commendable traits was his ability to forgive. Throughout his life, he forgave time and time again even those who pushed him down.

From an early age, Nelson Mandela was determined to change the political climate and end apartheid in South Africa. Wary of his movement, the South African government quickly imprisoned Mandela for treason. Mandela’s imprisonment started in 1962, briefly ended, and then continued from 1964 to 1990 after he received a life sentence. Eighteen of Mandela’s twenty-seven years spent in prison were served at Robin Island in a damp, concrete cell measuring eight by seven feet. Mandela was subject to intense labor in the camp’s lime quarries, experienced constant verbal and physical harassment by several white prison wardens, and was forcibly isolated from the outside world, receiving infrequent and rare opportunities to contact his friends and family. In 1990, upon his release from prison, Mandela remarkably showed the world his determination to serve the people of South Africa, rather than any resentment after being unfairly silenced for over two decades. When reflecting on that day, Mandela stated, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew that if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison”.

As a newly free man, Nelson Mandela was fueled with determination to both serve the people who once oppressed him, and the people who remained oppressed; as Mandela famously once said, “it always seems impossible until it’s done”. Mandela had the unique capacity to come from an unbiased perspective- he did not fight solely for black rights, he fought for everyone: “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities”. In 1994, Nelson Mandela was elected as the first black president of South Africa. A man of many handshakes, Mandela peacefully transformed the country from apartheid.

Prior to his presidency in 1994, South Africa was governed by a single white party with a negligible non-white representation in parliament. As the first black president, Mandela changed the character and perspective of the South African government; all initiating a new legacy for the county. Since Mandela’s presidency, South Africa has held four free national elections, expanded party plurality, established fair courts and civil rights, and experienced increased levels of political efficacy among its 53 million people. Nelson Mandela helped mend the gap between white and black South Africans; a gap that traditionally fueled violence, poverty and conflict throughout the county and its history. In ending the apartheid and making significant economic reforms, Mandela also jumped started the South African economy; an economy that has now doubled in real terms and leaves the country as the economic superpower in its region.

Nelson Mandela initiated seismic change in the country of South Africa; a level of change that could not be expected of one man. Nelson Mandela will not only be remembered as one of the greatest leaders, but also as one of the most graceful leaders; a leader who was never sought praise and always acted thoughtfully and with kindness. Mandela’s legacy of forgiveness will undoubtedly influence the perspectives of many to come, as his unrelenting charisma, tremendous concern for truth, and moral compass will continue to inspire me. As you and your family celebrate this holiday season and make your New Year’s resolutions, I hope that you consider the ways you can make a difference in our world; in doing so, I ask that you remember the wise words of our fallen hero, “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”. Join me in mourning our great loss. As always, I am here to serve!