Nelson Mandela to me not just the greatest statesman but the greatest man now living embodies one of the greatest triumphs of the human spirit. He was persecuted, denounced as a traitor, narrowly escaped execution, and was confined for 27 years in prison but never giving up hope, his courage never failing, his moral stature and his circle of supporters steadily grew. Even from prison he led the oppressed, and could befriend and educate his oppressors. No prisoner's cell could diminish Mandela; by the time of his release, his courage and magnanimity had become the greatest beacon of hope for men and women in every continent of the world.
It was because of the greatness of Mandela and, especially, his refusal to hate or become embittered that a multiracial South Africa was born, not in further bloodshed and catastrophe, but in peace and democracy. "He symbolizes a much broader forgiveness and understanding and reaching out," said Graça Machel, his wonderful wife. He makes us want to be better. "If he had come out of prison and sent a different message, I can tell you this country could now be in flames."
By itself, his leadership of a mass movement of protest against oppression would have secured Mandela's place in history. In any century, his overthrow of apartheid would have been a monumental event. Leading the African National Congress into power in peace and partnership with the former racist parties was unprecedented. It could have stopped there all that would have made Mandela more than a hero of our age. But he has not stopped. For Mandela was always more than just a man of his own time.
Having climbed one mountain, overcoming apartheid, he is now, as he himself says, still climbing, even in his 89th year, yet another: this time, campaigning against the shackles of global poverty. As we have seen with his work on HIV/AIDS, and as
I found when he came out of retirement this year to launch the crusade to give education to every child in the world, the cause always dearest to him is that of the poorest children, whose future is most insecure.
To me, Nelson Mandela is truly inspirational. Demonstrating an optimism that is bold, infectious and will travel down the centuries, he tells us that "man's goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished." With Mandela, and because of Mandela, no noble cause is unachievable.