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Nelson Mandela: Remembering a great man

Photo: South Africa The Good News (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Photo: South Africa The Good News (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Today, the world mourns the passing of one of the greatest figures of our time. A constant fighter for justice and equality, Nelson Mandela’s greatness was demonstrated in all that he did. We thank Mr Mandela for his tireless work to protect the rights of the most vulnerable members of society, in South Africa and around the world.

Few people in this world could endure the ordeal Mr Mandela suffered for his beliefs, and yet it was an ordeal which he bore with grace and fortitude. For 27 years, he suffered imprisonment following a politically motivated trial which was condemned globally. 18 years of his sentence were spent at Robben Island prison, where for five days of every week, he quarried lime, chained to three other inmates. For nearly two decades, his living quarters were a tiny room, and his bed a straw mat. This he endured because he believed that black people should be allowed the rights as white people.

An inspirational figure

Perhaps Mr Mandela's greatest strength was his natural humility. Even for staff at Robben Island prison, Mr Mandela was an inspirational figure: "He became like a father to me," prison warden Christo Brand told Reuters. "If I needed some help and assistance with something, he was always there for me." Yet despite his immense courage, Nelson Mandela always maintained that he was no more than a single part of the ANC's leadership.

In fact, he was much more than that. He was a true believer in justice; a man who sacrificed his own liberty so that others could have their freedom. At his trial in 1964, he said: "I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

Mr Mandela's actions prove beyond doubt that he meant what he said. In 1985, while at Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town, he was offered release by then-president P.W. Botha, bowing to increasing pressure from around the world. As ever, Mr Mandela placed the interests of the majority before his own, and rejected the offer: "I am not prepared to sell the birthright of the people to be free."

A friend to SOS Children

Following his release from prison in 1990, he paid many visits to our Children's Villages in South Africa, and we are honoured to count him as a friend. We were fortunate enough to welcome him to the opening ceremony of our Village in Cape Town, two years after his election as South Africa's first black president.

On that day in May 1996, he spoke as movingly as ever: "I would like to tell every young person here today that I love them very much. You are the future of South Africa; the hope of our rainbow country." Reflecting on the consequences of apartheid, he continued: "Many of these children were robbed of their right to a decent education and adequate health care, stable family lives and sometimes of their entire childhood."

In 2001, we opened a Children's Village in Mthata, a town in the Eastern Cape province around 30 miles from the village of Mvezo where Mr Mandela spent his childhood. Speaking in the early days of the project, he said: "It will be near my childhood home, from where I take my strength and which holds fond memories."

On this sad day, we remember Mr Mandela and everything he gave to the world - his kindness, his devotion to what is right, his humility, and his great capacity for forgiveness. Our thoughts today are with his family and the people of South Africa, and we celebrate the life and mourn the passing of a man who will never be forgotten.