The Passing of Nelson Mandela, A Global Giant

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The Albany Law community mourns the loss of Nelson Mandela, one of the world’s most important and inspiring figures of the 20th and 21st Centuries. In 1993 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. His transformation of South Africa became a model for other countries around the globe, and Mandela used his diplomatic skills to resolve conflicts in other nations. 

He spent his lifetime bringing an end to apartheid, the political system founded on avowed racial superiority and segregation, and declared a crime against humanity by the United Nations in 1977.   Apartheid rose when Mandela was a young man and he challenged it – first with nonviolent civil disobedience and legal argument as a black lawyer in South Africa’s courts
;  later with a commitment to armed struggle; still later with thirty years of his life spent in apartheid South Africa’s prisons, mostly the notorious Robben Island.

Robben Island, however, failed to diminish Mandela, and in time South Africa’s white leaders came to him to try to negotiate their way out of the box they had built themselves into. Mandela seized that moment and with the help of many others, black and white, led South Africa to its first democratic election
s in 1994.

What most distinguished him was not his personal courage, great as that was, nor his commitment to his country’s cause, great as that was, but his remarkable capacity to bind his nation together. Had he come to office consumed by bitterness, no one could have doubted that he had good cause.   Instead he came to office with the grace and generosity to make black and white South Africans feel that they were all citizens of the country he led. Always a man of the law, he also affirmed from the start of his Presidency that he and all South Africans were subject to the rule of law and the authority of the courts.

The path to the new South Africa was difficult and dangerous. Peace and democracy were not inevitable at all. Nelson Mandela led the country out of the wilderness of apartheid. We rejoice that he lived to see the promised land, the new country – a country like others, with its hopes and its imperfections – that is South Africa today.

Albany Law School's president and dean, Penelope Andrews, is honored that Nelson Mandela wrote the foreword to her book [co-edited with Professor Stephen Ellmann], THE POST-APARTHEID CONSTITUTIONS: PERSPECTIVES ON SOUTH AFRICA'S BASIC LAW (2001).

View full speech at Start Rivonia Trial (20 April 1964)

For information on Mandela’s accomplishments, philosophy, and more, try these web sites.

Dean Andrews is co-host of the South Africa Reading Group with Professor Stephen Ellmann.   A similar statement has been posted on the South Africa Reading Group website.