Nelson Mandela: A Hero of Our Time

August 18, 2014

Where were you when Mandela passed away? I was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for the Global Peace Convention 2013.

The trending hashtag #RIPNelsonMandela was the first thing that greeted me. I don’t think I could have been at a better place to commemorate his life at a peace conference with leaders from all over the world.

At the opening plenary session, Dr. Chandaria called Mandela the “heart of Africa.” Dr. Moon describes Mandela as “a figure who carried on the message of true love, even loving thy enemy, to build bridges of peace to heal the wounds of segregation that had separated two races in South Africa.”

Robben Island is near the horizon, the prison where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years. (PHOTO CREDIT: KodachromeFan)

I read A Long Walk to Freedom in my twenties. I remember wondering what plantain loaves tasted like when he talked about surviving on one a day in his early years as a lawyer. I held my breath as he walked deeper into the fight for racial equality. I cried when he was sentenced and cried harder when he was released. I remember walking on air when he recounted the victory of the first interracial election and his presidency.

I think for many of us who have lived through the 80’s, 90’s and early 00’s, he was a looming presence in our personal history. One of those people that you never thought would pass away. An indomitable spirit, a man willing to die for a worthy cause.

What made him so large in our consciousness?

I think every child looks for heroes, people who manifest the noblest characters that we aspire for. I think Mandela is one of those people who walked a path of unbelievable trials, but was victorious. Not just because he was the first African president of South Africa, or that he endured 27 years of imprisonment, or is the icon of non-violent social action, those are all amazing feats. But I think what makes him so enduring are the battles he won first inside himself.

  • He walked with conviction, willing to even die for the ideals he was fighting for.
  • He forgave those who hate and even sought to kill him.
  • He worked with people beyond ideological, racial, religious differences for a universal ideal of peace and prosperity.

He was a hero not because his life was always rosy and he basked in the accolades of the public, but because even in his darkest struggles he chose to embody qualities like humility, resolution, righteousness, courage and love.

There is a poem, Invictus, by William Ernest Henley, that Mandela recited during his 27 years at  Robben Island. I can see what gave him strength. It reads like an affirmation of the principles he stood up for.


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

Even in the worst situations, be grateful and humble.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

If the cause is right, never give up, be willing to die trying.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

To the most hopeless places, bring hope.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

No matter what wrongs are done against you, you are the owner of your spirit, given the right by God to determine your attitude and behavior.*

~ by William Ernest Henley.

*commentary inserted by blog author

The world celebrates his life for the first time after his passing on July 18. People are encouraged to invest 67 minutes in service to honor his legacy and life.

As we commemorate individuals such as Mandela, we can also commit to our own personal hero’s quest. The quest, as illustrated in Invictus and his life, is victorious when we choose, as the “captain of my soul,” to uphold moral principles and values in our thoughts and behaviors despite all odds.

Happy Mandela Day.

Follow Us

Take Action

Create a positive and impactful change in your area today.

Recent Posts

More Articles