On Thursday, Dec. 5, Nelson Mandela, arguably one of the greatest leaders of all time, died. In the week since his passing, it seems the entire world has been in mourning as people from across the globe took to the Internet to express their sadness and respect for Mandela.
Here in the US, politicians of every party remembered Mandela as someone who truly embodied what it means to be a public servant. As a man whose primary achievement was the ability to unite a nation previously divided by hatred and bigotry, the fact that his death brought together people normally separated by their differences seems only natural.
President Obama and the First Lady, Former President George W. Bush and his wife Laura, Former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Jimmy Carter will all be attending the funeral in Johannesburg Sunday, Dec. 15.
While his death proved a huge loss throughout the world, no where is it more so than in South Africa, where he was a hero to his people. “Nelson Mandela is a national treasure and a hero to many South Africans,” said Kaveri Bansal, LSOE ’15, who spent last term in South Africa. “Every time someone speaks of him, you can hear the awe and admiration he or she feels for him."
Since Mandela was ill for some time before he passed, many had been speculating about and preparing for his passing. “People in South Africa did not know what his death was going to mean. Was there going to be riots or violence? Or was it going to be peaceful and that people were still going to fight for what he believed in?” said Bansal.
“South Africa is still so young and even though it is progressing you can still see the effects of apartheid. I think that by how his death was handled, people truly believe in what Nelson Mandela taught and will continue to fight for a better South Africa.”
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, when apartheid gained international attention as a serious human rights issue, college students were one of the most active groups in trying to create awareness and force change. Across the United States, students held demonstrations and protests and urged their schools to stop investing in companies that did business with the South African pro-apartheid government, which caused many schools to cancel any divestments they had that supported the apartheid regime.
College campuses were not the only places that sought to remove any support of the pro-apartheid government. Boston was the first city in the United States to officially oppose apartheid, which it did by putting sanctions on any companies that were in business with the South African government. In 1990, to recognize this action by the city of Boston, Mandela visited Boston first in his tour of the United States.
As seen by the public outpouring of support and the diversity of people and cultures represented at his memorial, Nelson Mandela’s legacy is one of compassion, acceptance and equality. With the passing of this legend, however, the question remains: how much more is left to be done? South Africa is still far from a beacon of perfect racial equality, as well as the United States, and Boston College.
To truly honor Nelson Mandela’s life-long battle for justice, it may be necessary to reexamine the lives and the institutions that shape modern society and decide if there is room for improvement. If there is, then Mandela’s death may serve as a reminder to continue his work.Featured photo courtesy of United Nations Photo/Flickr.