Democracy is based on the majority principle. This is especially true in a country such as ours where the vast majority has been systematically denied their rights. At the same time democracy also requires that the rights of political and other minorities be safeguarded. – Nelson Mandela when he became the first Black President of South Africa in May, 1994
When Nelson Mandela died last Thursday at age 95, he left an enduring legacy. For those of you who want the in-depth picture, we recommend reading his 1994 biography, Long Walk to Freedom.
Meanwhile, we were delighted to get an email from Boston Bar Foundation President Jack Clymer saying he had heard former Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall, a South African by birth, interviewed on National Public Radio last Friday — discussing Mandela’s contributions to justice and the rule of law.
She cited Mandela’s escaping the death penalty, asking, “What would have happened to South Africa had this man been executed?” She also credited him with negotiating South Africa’s democratic constitution, creating an independent constitutional court, where people aggrieved by the actions of their government could bring their cases. Afterwards, when he lost a case before an independent judiciary, he reacted with joy, because this affirmed that the judicial branch was no longer operating with its thumb on the scale.
On an even more fundamental level, we admire Nelson Mandela as a model of forgiveness and reconciliation. Despite the cruel and humiliating treatment of him and his people by South Africa’s all white, racist regime and a 27 year prison sentence for his political activities to overturn apartheid, he kept his eye on a larger purpose.
“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom,” he said, “I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
We mourn the loss of one of the greatest leaders in modern society, but we view his teachings and examples as something that should last ever. Let’s try to emulate in some small way what he has done, on a local level.