“Our human compassion binds us one to the other as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.” – Nelson Mandela
The 2018 Nelson Mandela International Day on July 18 marks the 100th year anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s birth. The day was established by the United Nations in 2009 to commemorate Mandela’s legacy of peace that transcends race, nationality, and religion.
Every year individuals, communities, organizations, and nations are encouraged to take peacebuilding into their own hands by serving and strengthening the ties that bind people that can seem so separate.
Nelson Mandela was born on July 18, 1918, in Movezo, South Africa. At the time, South Africa was severely segregated along racial and cultural lines. Mandela would join the African National Congress in his youth where he became a pivotal leader in its ranks.
In 1964, he was accused of treason and sentenced to life imprisonment. He would spend 27 years in various prisons, most notable was his time at Robbin Island. His imprisonment, however, did not snuff his fire to create a South Africa for all.
In his autobiography, he recounts his search for compassion, not just for his fellow inmates, but also for the wardens and others who imprisoned him, demeaned him, and tried to take away his dignity and freedom. In some way, his harrowing experience forged his character and made him into the man who could seek out the common humanness in even those who oppressed him. the man who would lead the journey to unite the races of South Africa and work towards a shared future.
The poem by William Henley, Invictus, anchored him during the darkest times. It captures his determination to allow hope to win.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
Mandela’s experience in prison and his victory to claim his soul and not allow others to snuff out his spirit and heart despite the challenges is significant to all people seeking to move out of conflict into prosperity.
South Africa continues to work towards the vision that propelled Mandela through the hardest times of his life. The world also struggles to rise above conflict, whether it is between national interests, ideological differences, or racial and religious division and establish peace and prosperity.
When we acknowledge our shared destiny, when we begin to see a common vision, it is then that we can begin to move away from conflict and towards a future building.
Mandela’s global impact can serve as a platform to seek ways to forge peace with all of our efforts together.
As he so fittingly put, “It is in your hands to make of the world a better place.”