For an Eritrean community leader in Seattle, Nelson Mandela’s legacy lives on. (Artwork by Marc Alexander)
I was introduced to Nelson Mandela by my father, a revolutionary who followed Mandela’s movement while he fought in the ranks of the Eritrean revolution in the ‘70s. News of revolutionaries fighting for the same cause as the Eritreans such as Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah and Nelson Mandela was often published and distributed to the Eritrean guerrilla fighters, and just like millions of Africans, my father related to the struggle of Madiba (Mandela’s Xhosa clan name, by which he is often known) and the South African people. Anyone who was a part of the Eritrean revolution can relate to Madiba, for they, too, sacrificed all that they held dear for freedom.
My father would always express his admiration for Madiba because he provided an example for how leaders in Africa should be. Mandela demonstrated that remaining in the hearts of the masses is more important than remaining in power. Yet what made me interested in researching and studying the life of Madiba when I was younger was the smile that my father had on his face whenever he mentioned his name.
Mandela would often be discussed in my household, and his example has helped me in countless ways to become a better person and a leader. He taught me how to remain loyal to the cause of uplifting my people, who face tremendous struggles with human trafficking, poverty and the refugee crisis today. Madiba also taught me how to hold onto my humanity in the face of struggle, and to forgive those who’ve wronged me as I continue to try to improve the conditions of my community in the diaspora.
Immediately after I heard the news of Mandela’s death, I called my father to tell him. His response?
“A revolutionary never dies,” he told me, for anyone who risks his own life for the oppressed and the poor, will live as long as there are hopeless people in this world.
I believe that the true magnitude of who Nelson Mandela was will not be wholly understood for perhaps another hundred years. My greatest fear is that his image will be commercialized, and that the next generation will know how he looked and perhaps a few facts about him without understanding the true importance of his legacy and the lessons every leader can learn from his history.
Let Madiba be forever remembered as a true revolutionary! A man who was willing to die for his cause, who spent 27 years in jail for his beliefs and refused to leave until better conditions for his country were met. He made his enemies respect him because of his bravery and loyalty, and didn’t prosecute the same people who abused him when he had the power to do so. Instead, he forgave them. Though his status was larger than life, Mandela lived humbly as a citizen in the country he loved.
The best way to honor such a man is to read about his life in depth, educating ourselves and the next generation on the true importance of his legacy, and to walk in his footsteps changing the world through our actions. His example taught us to stand up for justice even when we are alone. His example taught us the importance of forgiveness and the true meaning of representing the people with honor and loyalty. He showed us that one person’s actions can have an extraordinary effect on this world, and our world today surely needs more like Mandela!
With the death of Madiba, Africa lost a father, and the world lost a hero. But as my father said, Nelson Mandela could never die, and his light will never fade. His sacrifice, courage and philosophy will be an example for anyone who wants to impact the world in a positive way.