What Nelson Mandela Taught Us

“We shall build a society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall without any fear in their hearts, assured of the inalienable right to human dignity, a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.” – Nelson Mandela

Thirty years ago, on February 11, 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from Victor Verster Prison in South Africa. Mandela was sent to prison by his government because he fought against their unjust system called apartheid. Under apartheid, black South Africans were treated as less than human and white South Africans were given special privileges and rights. In his fight against this system and consequent imprisonment, Nelson Mandela taught the world many important lessons. Here are just a few:

Fighting for truth often comes with a price.
Mandela knew he was putting himself at risk by speaking out against the injustice of his government, but before he was sent to prison, Mandela declared, “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve, but if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” Willing to pay the price, Mandela spent 27 years in prison, including 18 years of hard quarry labor on Robben Island.

Fighting against oppression means abolishing the system, not simply changing roles.
History has shown us how tempting it is for an oppressed people to become the oppressors when revolution comes. Mandela knew this would be a temptation for black South Africans like himself and refused to accept that as his vision for the new South Africa. As president, Mandela took significant strides to make all South Africans, regardless of their skin color, feel included and valuable to the community. “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination,” Mandela said.

Change can take time.
The racial segregation and injustices of apartheid lasted almost 50 years. Even while he was imprisoned, Mandela never lost sight of his end goal. While in prison, Mandela studied towards a law degree and prepared himself to continue the fight for a peaceful and just South Africa. It was slow going, but when Mandela was democratically elected as South Africa’s first black president in 1994, he was the proof that change can happen when good men and women refuse to give up their dreams.

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