Nelson Mandela – A personal eulogy

As I’m sure you’ve all determined by now, I’m a bit odd. And that was true in my childhood as well.

I was probably the only freshman in high school who would stop off and buy copies of the New York Daily News and New York Times every morning. (Daily News for the sports and local news, NYT for the national and international news.) And Dan Rather’s broadcast was appointment viewing for me every night.

Growing up I was, while not consumed, very mindful of the struggles of black South Africans to secure freedom from apartheid. For most of the 1980s, their struggles dominated the evening news and newspapers. I remember curling my lip in disgust when the Reagan administration pursued “quiet diplomacy” with the racist regime. That told me all I needed to know about Reagan, as if I didn’t know enough already.

Growing up, Nelson Mandela was a mythic figure, the Once and Future King, kept on the isle of Avalon (Robben), awaiting to return to a nation in desperate need of him. And it finally happened in 1990.

Back when CNN was a real news network, I remember its coverage of his release. I remember watching an old man, bent by years of hard labor but far from broken, ennobled by his hardships. This many years later the memories blend into one another, but I do recall thinking “Well, this is something unique.” The leadership of a despotic regime realized that to continue the despotism would be to wallow in a sea of blood, eventually its own blood, and moved to co-opt its sternest opponent.

Except Mandela would not be co-opted. His position was still the position which he stated in his closing speech at his treason trial: full democracy, for black and white, with no half measures. If F.W. de Klerk thought he could preserve white privilege by freeing Mandela, he was sorely mistaken.

And yet South Africa did something amazing. It saved itself. The road wasn’t smooth. There were outbursts of heartrending violence, especially between the ANC and the Zulu Inkatha Party. But through it all there was  the example of Nelson Mandela, a secular saint, preaching both forgiveness and remembrance, so that the sins of the past never again occurred.

His election as South Africa’s first fully democratically elected president was never in doubt. And yet, when he made his inaugural speech, the world changed. If a country as mired in violence and oppression as South Africa could change, then any other country could change. His election was important not only to his fellow citizens; it was a call to the world, to be better than what it was.

I called Nelson Mandela a secular saint for a particular reason. He was no mystic. He was a man of this world. And he knew how to use power when needed. But he never wielded power for his or its own sake. The cause for which he fought wasn’t in service to himself, but to his people, and, I believe, to the world. When so many African leaders have hung onto power for decades, Mandela served one term only as president, punctuating that South Africa was more than one man, that it was the people which mattered. That can be extended to the world. He is as close to a saint as we get in our latter days: selfless, concerned with others, using his great power to help, not hurt.

As we remember his passing, it’s his life which matters. His death is a mere footnote. Long when most of the world’s leaders will be forgotten, mere errata in textbooks, Mandela will stand for decency, compassion, conviction, selflessness. The universe, in its infinite wisdom, throws up human beings like Mandela at the right time and in the right place. We have been fortunate to witness the example of his life. It is now incumbent upon us to live up to it.

78 Responses to “Nelson Mandela – A personal eulogy”

  1. 1 Dudette
    December 6, 2013 at 1:11 pm


  2. December 6, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    “I remember watching an old man, bent by years of hard labor but far from broken, ennobled by his hardships”

    Exactly my memory too LL, I remember being in tears because I thought he would hardly last a year, he was so frail, and look at the life he went on to live.

    An absolutely beautiful piece, thank you so much.

  3. 6 Nena20409
    December 6, 2013 at 1:13 pm


    Jay’s WH presser, momentarily 🙂

    Gold for the Fabulous TODable DJ 😉


  4. 7 Nena20409
    December 6, 2013 at 1:16 pm

    LL, you simply Rock.

  5. 11 Nena20409
    December 6, 2013 at 1:17 pm


    Jay’s at the Podium LIVE 😉

    • December 6, 2013 at 1:28 pm

      • 13 Nena20409
        December 6, 2013 at 1:40 pm

        Thanks Meta.

        Jay in Jay’s calm way told the idiot from NBC, that fool who was kissing Romney’s arse in 2012 the truth. These people are Not even trying to Use their minds….just repeat total nonsense, knowing the facts. Shame on that idiot.

  6. 14 hopefruit2
    December 6, 2013 at 1:18 pm

  7. 20 Lynn
    December 6, 2013 at 1:19 pm

    President Mandela’s interior strength was indestructible. I believe our President possesses that same core. So glad I lived long enough to appreciate both of them. Back to the tissue box.

  8. 21 dotster3
    December 6, 2013 at 1:20 pm

    • 22 pkayden
      December 6, 2013 at 4:10 pm

      Nice. Amazing how he traveled so extensively after leaving jail despite his advanced age. I hope I’m as active and healthy when I reach his age.

  9. 23 vcprezofan2
    December 6, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    ‘Growing up, Nelson Mandela was a mythic figure, the Once and Future King, kept on the isle of Avalon (Robben), awaiting to return to a nation in desperate need of him. And it finally happened in 1990.’

    He was indeed a ‘mythic figure’ to me too until I saw him, and heard him speak, in person at an assembly arranged for young people. Listening to him and his new wife speak calmly, gently and with love and compassion was a moving experience. He has ‘fought a good fight, and kept the faith’. Well done, Nelson! You, and your impact, will never be forgotten! Both have been seared into our consciousness AND into history! Well done!

  10. December 6, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    “As we remember his passing, it’s his life which matters. His death is a mere footnote. Long when most of the world’s leaders will be forgotten, mere errata in textbooks, Mandela will stand for decency, compassion, conviction, selflessness. The universe, in its infinite wisdom, throws up human beings like Mandela at the right time and in the right place. We have been fortunate to witness the example of his life. It is now incumbent upon us to live up to it.”

    That’s what I love most about your writings LL, no matter how heartbreaking or enraging the theme, you always end with an uplifting, comforting call to arms. Love ya.

    • December 6, 2013 at 1:30 pm

      Love ya back, Chips. In my middle age, I’ve learned the hard way that hope is more profitable than despair, or, worse, cynicism. Greenwald and Assange would do well to learn the same lesson.

      • December 6, 2013 at 1:42 pm

        “Hope is more profitable than despair, or, worse, cynicism”

        I’m going to make that my mantra, because too often I go down the despair/cynicism road!

        Thank you again for such a lovely piece.

  11. December 6, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    Incredible piece of writing! I am in awe…

  12. December 6, 2013 at 1:37 pm

    Great piece, LL. Thanks again for your powerful voice and eloquence.

  13. December 6, 2013 at 1:37 pm

    Breaking news: the missus has clients for the next 3 days!!! So she’s working today, tomorrow, Sunday, and Monday. Wheeee!!!

  14. 31 dotster3
    December 6, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    Mandela’s quote featured above—–that hate has to be taught because “love comes more naturally to the human heart” is so true, as we all know. All one has to do is to observe any diverse pre-school, where I spent quite a few years, and this is so obviously true. Young children do not notice or care about any physical differences in others. They play alongside and hug each other without prejudice, do not separate themselves from others who may not look the same. “Do you want to play at the sand table with me?” “Do you want to play dress-up?”—–those are the only separations in evidence. All kids need are parents who teach love, not hate, and a society which recognizes the value and simplicity of that.

  15. 32 Gazelle
    December 6, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    Looks like the memorial service is on the 10th and the funeral is on the 15th. RSA’s Mail & Guardian Tribute to an Icon (I’m trying to decide if the jacket in that first picture is real! Wow!):


  16. 35 forus50
    December 6, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    Just beautiful LL. Not only in what you say but how you say it.

    You might enjoy this piece from another of my favorite bloggers, Al Giordano:

  17. December 6, 2013 at 1:47 pm

    Wonderful LL, just wonderful…. If you thought our media were tools today….. take a look at this brutal takedown of Ted Koppel, by Madia!

    Start at the 7’30” mark…. Madiba: “One of the problems we are facing in the world today are people are not looking at the world objectively, but the point of view of your own interest.”

    12’20” mark…. Madiba: “You can call it being political or a moral question, but for anybody who changes his principles depending on who is dealing, that is not a man who can lead a nation……..Apparently Mr. Kopel, you have not been listening to what I have been saying. If you had done so then you haven’t been serious in examining it………Then the nail in the coffin: “I don’t know if I have paralyzed you?”

    • December 6, 2013 at 1:50 pm

      hah!! Now as I think back, I do realize that most of our media has always been enmeshed in groupthink. Chomsky, for all his faults, clearly delineated this.

    • 38 vcprezofan2
      December 6, 2013 at 2:38 pm

      Bibi could have learned so much by listening to Mandela in this interview.

    • 39 Don
      December 6, 2013 at 3:01 pm

      Believe it or not, I actually watched that interview on the night Mandela as on Koppel’s show. As a young person in my early twenties it blew me away.

      • 40 Dakota
        December 6, 2013 at 4:05 pm

        I saw that also! I remember so clearly when Madiba said to Koppel, “I seemed to have paralyzed you.” The audience roared!

        I also remember a delightful young boy about 5 years old who, when called on to speak said (paraphrasing), “Mr. Mandela we want to help you as much as we can. Please send us post card and let us know how to help.” Again, the audience roars and Madiba asks the young man to come down so he can give him an autograph! That young man was on the Oprah show several years back. He was attending Harvard.

    • 41 pkayden
      December 6, 2013 at 4:27 pm

      I didn’t know that there were tensions between the anti-apartheid movement and American Jews vis-a-vis the ANC’s position on Arafat/Palestinians. Interesting.

      Never liked Koppel anyways. This was a hoot. Thanks for posting.

  18. 42 Judith Fardig
    December 6, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    LL, you never fail to touch our hearts and minds with your beautiful writing. Thank you once again for your unique voice.

  19. 43 Nena20409
    December 6, 2013 at 1:49 pm


    Al Jazeera America is launching today on Time Warner Cable systems, the two companies announced this morning.

    The deal will expand AJAM’s distribution significantly, with TWC having around 11 million subscribers, including a substantial chunk of the New York and Los Angeles TV markets. When the switch is flipped, AJAM will be available in around 55 million homes, up from around 40 million when it launched in August.

    “Now that we have some content under our belt, we are out there trying to let people know—with very specific examples—some of the great things we have done,” Al Jazeera America president Kate O’Brian told Capital in a recent interview. “The name of the game is ‘get the eyeballs,’ so the Time Warner thing, where they are agreeing to put us on their tier, is just so fabulous that we are doing everything we can to make sure we get those eyeballs.”

    • December 6, 2013 at 1:50 pm

      Excellent. I just truly hope they don’t go the way of all US media.

      • 45 Nena20409
        December 6, 2013 at 1:57 pm

        Me too and an AM show that has US concerns would help, I think.

      • 46 Gazelle
        December 6, 2013 at 2:07 pm

        LL, I still prefer my old Al Jazeera International which I can’t find anywhere since AJAM took over. I think they should fashion themselves as AJI and not attempt to mimic US media. I loved the international segments on AJI, their reporters from all over the world, etc. I’ll still hold my peace w/ AJAM & see how they evolve.

        • December 6, 2013 at 2:13 pm

          Invest in a VPN service. When you run it, you can mask your IP address as being from another country. Then you can watch AJE.

          Another option is to download XBMC to your computer. It has a ton of addons, including international news sources like AJE. I’ve been playing with it for a week, and it’s wonderful.

          • 48 Gazelle
            December 6, 2013 at 2:28 pm

            Wow, thanks LL! I’ll definitely play around and see if it’ll pop up. And thanks for the XBMC info, Lawd I’m going to be in heaven! 🙂

  20. December 6, 2013 at 1:58 pm

    OMG, Nelson Mandela’s funeral is going to be an astonishing event. I can’t even imagine the outpouring of love and adoration that will be expressed.

    • December 6, 2013 at 2:53 pm

      Truly historic (see my comment below).

      I am so glad that Michelle will join him on this emotional journey. PBO lost his last true “parent” just before he won his 2008 election, and now his personal mentor, a great, joyous and forgiving man is gone. So glad that Michelle will be with him (sorry for the repetition, but it’s good to know he’ll have comfort on this journey, though I’m sure that Mandiba’s greatness will be celebrated as well.

      The photo that Dotster posted of Mandela with Jackie O is a reminder that he was a true contemporary of JFK’s, just a year younger.

  21. 52 Gazelle
    December 6, 2013 at 2:03 pm

    [Last year they said that]:

    Madiba is being written by Nigel Williams, the British novelist, screenwriter and playwright, whose previous TV credits include an adaptation of his own novel The Wimbledon Poisoner and Elizabeth I, starring Helen Mirren.

    The miniseries is being co-produced by UK filmmakers Andy Harries and Marigo Kehoe through their production company, Left Bank Pictures, which has credits including the BBC’s Swedish detective drama Wallander. Harries and Kehoe have previously collaborated on projects including The Queen and The Damned United.


    [Now, it looks like it’s still in the works]:

    […..] In the next 12 months, there will be others, starting with development of a 6-part TV miniseries aptly titled Madiba, on the life of Nelson Mandela, which will be based on Mandela’s 2 books: Conversations With Myself, and Nelson Mandela By Himself – a significant change, considering that most past films in which Mandela was a character, were based on books written by others.

    And most recently, South African film company DV8 Films announced that it will trace Mandela’s years as a guerrilla freedom fighter, in a new docu-drama titled Mandela’s Gun.

    The film, which will feature both documentary and scripted elements, will include his military training in Morocco and Ethiopia, and the mystery of the pistol, said to have been a gift to Mandela from Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie, which has been missing for 50 years, leading up to his arrest in 1962.

    John Irvin, who dramatised John le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, will be directing the film – a UK/South Africa production – with South African actor, Tumisho Masha, playing the role of the country’s first black president; a rare occasion, given that, historically, on screen, Mandela has been played by American and British actors.

    The film’s producers say that Masha is indeed the first South African actor to play Nelson Mandela in a film. Mind-blowing isn’t it?


  22. 53 JER
    December 6, 2013 at 2:08 pm

  23. December 6, 2013 at 2:25 pm

    this was beautiful. thank you

  24. December 6, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    Beautiful LL. Wish I could hang around. Going out to enjoy the weather. 😆

  25. December 6, 2013 at 2:34 pm

    One of our faculty, who used to be in diplomatic service, just posted a funny personal experience entitled “Eating cookies with Mandela – UI professor recalls Mandela’s deft handling of a tricky diplomatic moment ” – http://now.uiowa.edu/2013/12/eating-cookies-mandela.

    • 57 Gazelle
      December 6, 2013 at 2:54 pm

      Muscatinegal, thanks for sharing that article. Loved this paragraph:

      “Someone once told me that diplomacy is the art of someone telling you to go to hell in a way that makes you look forward to the trip. By that definition, and any other, Nelson Mandela was a world-class diplomat.”

  26. December 6, 2013 at 2:35 pm

    Based on the (limited) non-stop coverage of Mandiba’s passing that I’ve seen on MSNBC, this feels like a truly historic occasion.

    Not only because of Mandiba’s strength of chacacter, courage and greatness, but also because of his unbashed JOY.

    When was the last time we’ve been a witness to the sheer joy of a departed world figure/politician? I’ve dutifully watched all Presidential funerals since that sad one 50 years ago when John-John saluted his father’s procession.

    Even the despicable upChuck admitted today that Repulicans in the 1980s were on the wrong side of history when it came to Apartheid; he showed clips from that time.

    upChuck also had two guests on his show who knew President Mandela personally. One was Patrick Gaspard; I didn’t catch the other guest’s name.

    He (unknown guest) said that what stuck him most and what stayed with him the most was how President Mandela lit up around children.

    Gosh, who does that remind you o (hint: he’s a favorite on this blog)?

    Hoping that this immersion in history during this holiday season will cause the vile MSM to reconsider the lies and distortions they’ve reported this year, and begin thinking of the historical context of their actions.

  27. 59 japa21
    December 6, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    OT but at work I am getting emails reporting various offices of ours closing in TN, KY etc. Obviously bad storm going through. To any TODers in those areas, take care.

    • December 6, 2013 at 2:52 pm

      Thankfully for us here in east TN, it’s not bad and not supposed to get real bad. Storm coming from the west so Memphis and especially Nashville then north of Nashville will likely get hit hard. Have a friend in Jackson (between Memphis and Nashville) and she posted over an hour ago that the freezing had begun.

  28. 62 LDS
    December 6, 2013 at 2:55 pm

    Arapaho415, HOPE is a beautiful thing…….
    Some days that is all I have. Thank you for sharing that beautiful thought.

  29. 63 pickle48
    December 6, 2013 at 3:04 pm

    Beautiful tribute, LL. I was also a bit of an oddball – and was glued to the television the day Mandela was released. We waited and waited…. and then he came. And the celebrations! Oh, the celebrations!

    Japa and Carolyn mentioned “Cry, the Beloved Country.” I’ve never read it, but have just ordered it on their recommendations. The book about apartheid that opened my eyes, mind, and heart was Nadine Gordimer’s “July’s People.” It was a revelatory novel for me.

    • 64 carolyn
      December 6, 2013 at 3:21 pm

      So glad you’ve ordered it. It’s a book I read every year with my students, and each time I read it, I find new insights and emotions.
      Paton was an admirer of Steinbeck, and you’ll find two conventions in this book that Steinbeck used: 1. In place of quotation marks, he uses dashes. 2. He makes use of what are called “interchapters” they break from the narrative and give a wonderful overview in dramatic form of the country and what is happening.
      The very first chapter is pure poetry: “There is a beautiful road that runs from Ixopo into the hills….”
      I get chills thinking about it.

    • 65 Vicki
      December 6, 2013 at 4:21 pm

      A great powerful unforgettable book.

  30. December 6, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    This is so amazing beyond words….. Please take 5 minutes and relish this incredible tribute.

  31. December 6, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    Very fine, heartfelt essay, LL. Thank you

  32. December 6, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    For me, it’s always been about the quality of the smile of a person …


    …. and just how powerful smiles can be in eliciting very strong reactions depending on the character of the person seeing the smile. Will just leave it at that.

    #FORWARD Together

  33. 73 Bill R.
    December 6, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    Thanks, LL, a heartfelt tribute to Mandela. I would add that Bishop Tutu was the perfect partner to Mandela in the process of freeing and healing a nation.

  34. 76 japa21
    December 6, 2013 at 3:36 pm

  35. 77 nathkatun7
    December 6, 2013 at 5:26 pm

    Very beautiful tribute, LL!

  36. 78 sjterrid
    December 6, 2013 at 7:11 pm

    LL, beautiful tribute to Mandela.

    Thank you so much TOD for your beautiful tributes to Nelson Mandela whether as a bt or in the comments. Thank you for sharing your memories or stories of Mandela with us.

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