Now-iconic figures Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela and groups like the NAACP and African National Congress (ANC) were the voices that rose above the rest. King and Madiba, as Mandela is affectionately known, were unrivaled in their passion and eloquence as they called for equality.
Both men were advocates for peaceful change, but the situations in the United States and South Africa were very different. King encouraged civil disobedience and legislative change. Madiba eventually felt compelled to adopt a "whatever it takes" position.
Many considered Mandela and the ANC as the terrorists of Africa of the 1950s to 1980s. They were involved in the freedom struggles of many African countries, but as they saw nation after nation gain independence, their beloved South Africa continued in the stranglehold of the government-sanctioned oppression of apartheid.
Incarcerated from 1962-1990, Mandela used his time in prison to study extensively. I sensed his shift from radical policies to more conciliatory ones as I observed him from nearby Zimbabwe and Mozambique as I served in Africa with the International Mission Board.
Mandela expertly navigated the turbulent times that characterized South Africa emerging from apartheid. I was as thrilled as my national friends when Madiba was elected as the first black president of South Africa in 1994. Living in southern Africa during the events later depicted in the film "Invictus," I was encouraged by seeing Mandela make decisions based on what he thought best for South Africa and all its peoples.
I was heartbroken for South Africa when Madiba stepped down as president in 1999 but I was also proud of him for setting an example as an African leader who refused to cling to power.
In 2010, I was privileged to view an excellent display of the history of South Africa prominently featuring Mandela, and I was drawn to one quote:
"During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. 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."
As my thoughts flashed back through the years, I was awed by how well Mandela had lived up to the goals he avowed more than 50 years before.
The people of South Africa are nervous about what will happen now that Mandela has died. I hope and pray they will honor him with actions that cherish his "ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities."
Toni Braddix served in Africa for 20 years with the International Mission Board. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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