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Reflecting on Madiba

Today is Mandela Day, and Nelson Mandela's 94th birthday. With South Africa six hours ahead of Ontario, I woke up to a flood of emails, social media alerts and articles celebrating the life of Madiba, as he is affectionately known. But as the day wore on, I noticed international tributes circulating as well. As a South African, his effect on me is profound. But I often forget that his legacy is admired around the globe, as he is arguably one of the most influential people in the world. Amongst the wishes and reflections, one quote was shared more than the rest:

nelson-mandela-quotes

As a bibliophile and a quote fanatic, one of my most cherished gifts is Nelson Mandela By Himself: The Authorised Book of Quotations, bestowed upon me by my brother. Organized by theme, the entry on poverty is four pages long. It is not surprising that Mandela became Amnesty International's Ambassador of Conscience. In his acceptance speech, he says:

"Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of fundamental human rights. Everyone everywhere has the right to live with dignity, free from fear and oppression, free from hunger and thirst, and free to express themselves and associate at will.
 
Yet in this new century millions of people remain imprisoned, enslaved and in chains. Massive poverty and inequality are terrible scourges of our times - times in which the world also boasts breathtaking advances in science, technology, industry and wealth accumulation. While poverty persists, there is no true freedom...
 
People living in poverty have the least access to power to shape policies - to shape their future. But they have the right to a voice. They must not be made to sit in silence as "development" happens around them, at their expense. True development is impossible without the participation of those concerned."
 

Today we reflect upon, and celebrate, a man who dedicated his life to equality. He made a difference in a once divided land. He left the prison gates as a friend of the prison wardens; he ventured into the new South Africa with no bitterness, as he said he had to leave that behind to be truly free. For a time, he made everyone know what it is to be united as one, to share a common destiny. He chose to focus on the future rather than the past, on reconciliation rather than retribution. There was a euphoric sense of community – South Africa celebrated as one! We need to be reminded of this as the South Africa, and the world, prepares for a time without Nelson Mandela. With so few giants of his stature bestriding the world stage, it is imperative that his values live on, even as his physical presence will inevitably fade away.

To learn more about the life of Madiba, visit the Centre of Memory.

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