Honoring Madiba: Love comes more naturally

December 6, 2013 3 Comments

VIDEO LINK: South Africans speak to the Meaning of Mandela

We join the world in mourning the passing of Nelson Mandela; a giant of a man; the very embodiment of the intimate link between power, networks and love. His grace and humility was unrivaled, his insistence on reconciliation was an inspiration to millions. South African President Jacob Zuma reminds us that “what made Nelson Mandela great was precisely what made him human. We saw in him what we seek in ourselves. And in him we saw so much of ourselves.” In the words of Bishop Desmond Tutu, “The world is a better place for Nelson Mandela. He showed in his own character, and inspired in others, many of God’s attributes: goodness, compassion, a desire for justice, peace, forgiveness and reconciliation.”

President Mandela’s influence and legacy spanned continents, races and generations. He touched my life as he did so many others. Participating in the divestiture movement in the U.S. in the 1980s was part of my political coming of age. I was fortunate to be on the Esplanade when Mr. Mandela came to Boston in 1991 and also to hear Winnie Mandela speak. It was a heady time. Mandela’s freedom and the end of the apartheid regime taught us that anything was possible. We were not naïve about the difficulties that would face the South African people as they built their new nation, but we were hopeful. While there is still work to be done, much has improved in South Africa.

Yesterday, President Obama paraphrased Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., saying that President Mandela was “a man who took history in his hands, and bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice.” He certainly was a heroic leader who has grown to almost mythic status in the decades since he was elected the first black president of South Africa. No one can deny his strength, graciousness and unswerving conviction. Yet, as is true of all iconic leaders, he was also embedded in a dense network of change agents and ordinary people who were willing to step up and take charge of their own destiny.

As we honor Nelson Mandela, let’s remember that he was not only an extraordinary individual. He was a leader and a source of inspiration for a global movement for justice and dignity, without which, the end of apartheid would have been unimaginable. While most of us will never be called upon to endure the degree of suffering, nor achieve the stature of Madiba, we all bear a responsibility to the ideals for which he lived and died. Again, borrowing the words of President Obama, “We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. So it falls to us as best we can to forward the example that he set:  to make decisions guided not by hate, but by love; to never discount the difference that one person can make; to strive for a future that is worthy of his sacrifice.”


  • Maanav Thakore says:

    Thank you for this Cynthia, so beautifully stated. There’s a saying in certain Buddhist communities that, “the next Buddha is the sangha” — the spiritual community itself. Similarly, I believe the next Madiba is all of us working together.

  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    You are the second person to remind me of that saying this week. Beautiful! We are the ones we have been waiting for.

  • Miriam Messinger says:

    Yes, beautifully stated. I struggle with and am awed by his focus on reconciliation. Most days I simply cannot imagine how he got there…or stayed there. And the truth that his steadfastness served to galvanize and inspire others; Mandela was central and together they were able to achieve.
    And I too cut my political teeth on anti-apartheid and divestiture work.

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