Every once in a great while, someone comes along who literally changes the world in a significant and irrevocable way. It's so unusual, that when it happens, the world seems to come to an abrupt stop when that person passes, even if the death is not unexpected. Nelson Mandela was such a man. And while most people know of his greatness, there are still so many who don't realize just how extraordinary he was. Was he perfect? Of course not. But if perfection were the measure of greatness, it would be something to which no human being could ever aspire.
Mandela's immeasurable legacy lies in monumental accomplishments that perhaps only he was capable of achieving.
Mandela had a very strong admiration of and connection to the United States in general and Los Angeles in particular. You need only look at his very taxing eight city tour of the country in 1990, shortly after he was released from prison in South Africa, after serving 27 years of a life sentence. He arrived in the U-S to a welcome that most rock stars could only dream about. His last stop was LA where he managed to galvanize support and inspire praise from just about everyone, from inner-city students, politicians, Hollywood A-listers, even Fortune 500 CEOs. His was a crusade to end South Africa's apartheid system; an odious form of government where a small minority of whites brutally oppressed the country's overwhelming black majority.
Mandela managed to not only gain phenomenal political support for his cause but, perhaps equally impressive, inspired some of this country's most hardened, penny-pinching corporate executives to open up their hearts and wallets to the tune of many, many millions of dollars. And as impressive as that is, it pales in comparison to what I believe is Mandela's most lasting legacy.
When he became the first black president of South Africa in 1994, Mandela could have done any number of things that might have plunged that nation into the depths of despair, desperation and perhaps even a bloody revolution. Had he been bitter about spending a huge portion of his adult life behind bars, he could have nationalized white-owned businesses as many of his supporters urged him to do. He could have prosecuted and imprisoned those responsible for unjustly imprisoning him and so many others. But instead of revenge and retribution, Mandela fostered reconciliation.
Mandela's gentle and generious spirit allowed for the restoration of his homeland to the community of freedom-loving nations, end the sanctions that had been imposed by other countries to pressure South Africa to abolish apartheid and reinvent a system of government that now symbolizes opportunity for all instead of unabashed oppression. In a nutshell, Mandela's charisma and the content of his character made him the sort of visionary the world desperately craves but all too rarely sees.