December 6th, 2013

headstone, tombstone, death, memorial

In Memoriam: Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, 1918-2013

It was coming—we could all see it. The poor man had been hospitalized and then under intensive care at home for months with a lung infection. And he was 95 and frail to start with, a mere shadow of his vital younger self from earlier decades. But it doesn't hurt any the less now that it's finally come, so great were his accomplishments and so amazingly forgiving and generous was his soul.

Nelson Mandela, the most renowned former prisoner of South Africa's infamous apartheid régime, ultimate conqueror of that régime (admittedly, with a ton of help, both at home and worldwide), first black president of his nation and global ambassador for tolerance and human dignity (not only in racial matters but also for those of minority sexuality and afflicted with HIV/AIDS), has finally died today. He went peacefully in his home, in the tony Houghton Estate area of Johannesburg - and how could he ever possibly have imagined one day living there, back in the horrific days of beatings, persecutions, arrests, trials and those endless nights of solitude in a cell on Robben Island?

There will be many tributes to him, verbal and visual, musical and poetic and prose, in the coming weeks and beyond. But I think best-selling author Brad Meltzer has already posted one of the most succinct, fitting and meaningful ones on his Facebook page here. And if you need the details, BBC News has a decent obit for the man here. As Brad points out, Mandela's very middle name translates to English as "troublemaker"...so one could argue that God or fate (take your pick) had tagged him for all of this from the beginning.

A year ago, I would have been heartbroken enough to hear this news...but it bites even harder now, as my Songbird and I have been residents of South Africa's closest neighbor country for five months and have visited several times, including shortly after the weekend of Mandela's birthday earlier this year. Our hearts go out to his family and surviving friends, and to his nation's people of all colors, creeds and walks of life, whose lives have been made immeasurably better for his having lived...not to mention many, many more the world over.

Rest well, Tata ("grandfather" in one of the several official languages of his country, as he was often called), and know you have the eternal gratitude of all in this world who care about equality and justice.