(South Africans waiting to vote, 1994).
Watching coverage in the aftermath of his passing, feeling tearful about the moral courage and power he embodied – an example that, when one takes into account character and circumstances, would be hard to match.
He uttered plenty of memorable quotes.
I like this one:
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
Here’s a link to an interesting excerpt from a speech by the Reverend Desmond Tutu in 2008, acknowledging the crucial role that the global sports boycott played in contributing to the end of Apartheid.
Update (December 6): Here’s a really good piece, first aired by ESPN in the run up to the World Cup in 2010, about Mandela and other prisoners at Robben Island and their efforts to set up a prison soccer league as an embryonic practice at governance.
One more (not sports-related), by the political commentator Peter Beinart, whose parents were South African, about how Mandela, though now revered, was once reviled, especially by those on the right – Reagan, Thatcher, Cheney and so on.
As with (Martin Luther) King, it is this subversive aspect of Mandela’s legacy that is most in danger of being erased as he enters America’s pantheon of sanitized moral icons. But it is precisely the aspect that Americans most badly need. American power and human freedom are two very different things. Sometimes they intersect; sometimes they do not. Walking in Nelson Mandela’s footsteps requires being able to tell the difference.
You can add Ali to this reminder.