There are a lot of words that we can associate with the life, work and struggle of Nelson Mandela. Some of them come to mind immediately: Courage, endurance, faith. Love, forgiveness, redemption: the core of the Christian creed. Still more: patience, reason, confidence, empathy, truth, humility and grace. All of these words would be considered as virtues by most thoughtful people.
By virtues, I mean goodness. However, it is the word “grace,” it seems, that most of the people who knew Mandela well, used to define his essential character. It was grace, undoubtedly, which was the source of his charisma, or his charm. Let it be said then, that it was his grace that he used as a vehicle in his effort to empower humanity. All of his deeds seem to be underwritten by his sense of grace. One of the clearest examples of this trait was that Mandela invited one of his former oppressors at the dreadful Robben Island Prison to be a front row guest at his inauguration as President of the Republic of South Africa in 1994.
An important thing to note here is that none of these aforementioned virtues have a color. This makes Nelson Mandela pro-human, over and against racial classification.
In self-examination of his life he readily acknowledged his flaws, his youthful errors. He humbly reflected that he was "a sinner" who would not stop trying to improve himself. It has been said by Socrates that "an unexamined life is a life not worth living."
Affectionately known as “Madiba” by his comrades in the African National Congress (ANC), Mandela and those in his close circle were and still are, quintessential heroes. Their struggle throughout most of the 20th century can be traced from 1912 to the fall of Apartheid (white supremacy); to Mandela and his fellow freedom fighters’ release from prison in 1990. Mandela once declared that "real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people.” His inner circle included the likes of Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, and Govan Mbeki, the father of Thabo Mbeki, the man who became the president when Mandela retired. Winnie Mandela and Mrs. Walter Sisulu are among the noblest warriors who ever lived. These warriors smashed one of the most brutal systems of criminal domination that ever existed. In the modern world, only the United States, with its bottomless cruelty of the institutionalized slavery-segregation, and the 12-year reign of Hitler's Nazi Germany can be compared.
The role of Nelson Mandela as a central figure in the total enterprise for human freedom in the twentieth century simply cannot be overstated. It can be strenuously argued that Madiba is at least one of the three greatest real life moral leaders in the history of the modern world (since the 1400s.) Certainly, in the Western world there is no one to compare to them. And they are Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela, the first from India and two sons of Africa, King and Mandela. Separately and together, they changed the social order of the world in their time and context. The three, are modern prophets. Spiritually they are joined at the hip. Like Ghandi and King, Mandela too, was once an apostle of non-violent resistance, until he was forced to armed struggle– by the interagents of the white supremacy regime. He had to take to the fields. All three were revolutionaries in thought and action. Mandela's role in the struggle for freedom, justice and equality was broader.
A lawyer, civil rights activist, guerilla fighter, a prisoner of war, a politician, statesman and philosopher, he did it all, with grace.