Local leaders offered their thoughts on the passing of human-rights activist Nelson Mandela and the legacy of forgiveness and tolerance he left the world. Mandela was South Africa’s first black president and was elected in his country’s first democratic election April 27, 1994. He served one term, from 1994-1999.
Mandela died Thursday night following a lengthy illness. He was hospitalized this past spring for a lung infection and fell ill again during the summer. The man affectionately called “Madiba” was 95 when he died. A state funeral and burial will be held for Mandela on Dec. 15, according to news reports.
“In my opinion, Mr. Mandela was a visionary, an intellectual, a statesman, who changed our world,” Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas said. “His humanity, his willingness to forgive and forget provides a bridge for our nation and other nations to reach out and embrace all of its citizenry. His presence helped create a better world for all of us. I never met him, but I am forever inspired by his character, his humanity and his vision for our world.”
“I never had the honor of meeting President Mandela, but have been intrigued by his life story,” Liberty County Commission Chairman Donald Lovette said. “He will long be remembered as an icon in the world’s arena and is truly one of the historical ‘change makers’ of my lifetime. Like Dr. Martin Luther King, he was called into service and gifted with peaceful measures that would eventually liberate an entire nation of people. Since that time, many world leaders have sought and highly valued his wisdom and counsel. Although native to South Africa, his life has been an inspiration to mankind everywhere. His legacy will live on forever.”
State Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, did have the opportunity to meet Mandela, and he recalled how he shook Mandela’s hand when the African National Congress deputy leader visited Atlanta in 1990.
“Mandela was on his Freedom Tour,” Williams said. “He made a visit to Georgia Tech and to Morehouse College.”
Williams said Mandela often referred to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s writings, and said Mandela met with King’s widow, the late Coretta Scott King, before speaking at Georgia Tech.
The state representative had his son, Cordell, who was 10 at the time, accompany him to see Mandela. Williams said Mandela spoke before a crowd of more than 50,000 people crammed into Georgia Tech’s stadium.
“I wanted my son to experience the moment,” Williams said. “We had great expectations of his visit.”
Williams said Mandela’s visit to the United States came a few months after his release from a South-African jail. Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years on charges of sabotage. He led the struggle to end apartheid in his segregated homeland. Williams said Mandela spent much of his incarceration in isolation, yet forgave his jailors and even had his prison guards seated “in the front row” at his inauguration.
Williams, a former civil-rights activist who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., on “bloody Sunday,” said he had “a connection” to Mandela since the mid-1960s.
The Midway native said he and other young activists at the time applied to the U.S. Department of State for visas so they could travel to South Africa and protest apartheid. They had attempted to recruit 2,000 protesters from across the United States to their cause, Williams said.
“The state department denied the visas because of the dangers,” Williams said. “We were young activists and death was not one of our fears.” The 1960s was a period of civil unrest in South Africa, he added.
Williams said Mandela demonstrated that “love conquers all.”
“No matter how intense the struggle or disagreement, (he taught) you should never lose your capacity to love and never stop looking for an agreeable point,” he said. “His life was like a sermon that was always preached and did not have a benediction. It will live into eternity.”