Today marks Nelson Mandela’s 95th birthday. In 2009, the UN General Assembly declared the day Nelson Mandela International Day to recognize the former South African president’s dedication to freedom and peace. Lately, in light of his hospitalization, the world has been caught in the grip of concern about Mandela’s health. On this day, however, South Africa and the rest of the world can be proud to celebrate the life of an icon who devoted his life to serving his people and to inspiring many across the globe to fight the good fight.
Many of the world’s people are currently engaged in unrelenting protest or struggling for freedom. A stark example is the ongoing violence in Syria, which began with a protest by regime opponents and has resulted in an advanced humanitarian catastrophe. In many corners of the world, other such struggles are taking place.
I believe Nelson Mandela’s “Speech from the Dock,” delivered on 20 April 1964, contains an inspiring message which should guide all freedom fighters. On that day, Mandela impassionedly remarked:
“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. 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.”
There are many lessons which can be learnt from people like Nelson Mandela who gave up their lives and personal freedoms so that others will have a better tomorrow. I believe there is a very important lesson from Mandela’s message which ought not to be forgotten after the struggle for freedom is won. A true freedom fighter fights for the freedom, justice and equality for all; also for that of former oppressors. True peace is achieved not just when the oppressed is freed but when all citizens of society are treated equally before the law, given the same opportunities to enable them to attain the highest possible standard of living and when justice is denied to no one.
It is right for the world to celebrate the true heroism of Nelson Mandela but also of other freedom fighters not as celebrated. Today is an important occasion to reflect on their courage, and on what it will take to build lasting peace in countries wrought by struggle and conflict.