Over the course of the early - mid 2000s, I took several trips to South Africa. During my travels there, and through the contacts I made, I had the opportunity to get a much deeper understanding of the transformation of that nation than many in the United States, for whom it is a very far and foreign land. I also had a glimpse of what apartheid was like, and how far the country had come since the transformation began in 1990. So I joined in heart in the celebration of Nelson Mandela's life this past week following his death at the remarkable age of 95.
I never met Mandela, but I did get the opportunity to meet two of his contemporaries who were also involved in the transformation story: Mangosuthu Buthelezi and President FW de Klerk. The stories they told me, the views they shared, and the things they have written show that the old American argument about whether Mandela was a "terrorist" (a tired argument that has, sadly, resurfaced in social media this past week) was far removed from reality. Liberals and conservatives in the US argued about South Africa from a distance of thousands of miles compounded by profound ignorance on both sides. Neither condition has changed much.
Rather than write my own essay on the greatness and meaning of Mandela, I would like to share a link to a better one. My internet friend and fellow blogger, Dan Djurdjevic of The Way of Least Resistance lived in South Africa for several years during apartheid. His essay on Mandela (linked here) is truly outstanding and I commend it to you.