December 9th, 2013 —
Nelson Mandela passed away last week, at age 95, leaving behind a great legacy of hope. In an era when inequality remains a very tangible issue worldwide, he shall be remembered as a remarkable statesman, human rights activist, and freedom fighter, who overcame rigid socioeconomic barriers to play a pivotal role in the global struggle against racial and economic oppression.
Born in 1918 in a small village in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, Mandela walked a long and arduous path to become the first black South African to be elected to office in 1994.
In his youth, he studied law at the University of Witwatersrand, facing racism from peers, as he was the only native African student enrolled in the program. Here he began his political formation.
A pioneer, early in his career, Mandela faced imprisonment for taking revolutionary action against his nation’s system of racial segregation, an ideal for which he hoped to “live for” and was also ready to “die for”, if necessary. For his efforts, he spent 27 years behind bars as a political prisoner.
During his term as President of South Africa, he sought to help the nation heal from the scars of apartheid, calling for an end to institutionalized racism, and shining a light at previously overlooked human rights abuses. He campaigned for the introduction of universal free education, and for improvements in access to health and sanitation services in marginalized communities.
Mandela also gained international notoriety for his advocacy work in combating poverty and HIVAIDS. In his lifetime, he received over 250 honors, including the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize, the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Bharat Ratna; India’s highest civilian award.
Though highly prolific in his work, perhaps Mandela’s most influential idea was his vision of a multicultural democracy. For progressive leaders worldwide, this idea has become a model for building a world in which all people participate freely, and have equal access to opportunity.
Today, as voter purges and voting restrictions threaten the participation of black and latino voters in the state of Florida, we remember the legacy of Nelson Mandela and feel more motivated than ever to continue our work towards a more inclusive, fair, and vibrant democracy.
Florida New Majority joins countless voices in celebrating the life and work of Nelson Mandela. May we all be inspired by his commitment and determination in continuing to fight for a fair and equal society.