By Jesse Jackson
President Nelson Mandela was truly a transformative force in the history of South Africa and the world. My heart weighs heavy about his transition, but we are reassured because his life was full, and we know the imprint he left on our world is everlasting.
If ever the teaching that “Suffering breeds character. Character breeds faith. In the end faith will not disappoint” rang true, it did in the life of Mandela.
Despite imprisonment in Robben Island for 25 years and 8 months, Mandela never lost faith in winning freedom for the South African people. Suffering breeds character.
Mandela was a transformational figure; to say he was a “historical figure” would not give him his full due. Some people move through history as being the “first this or that” – just another figure in a lineage of persons. To be a transformer is to plan, to have the vision to chart the course, the skills to execute. To be transformational is to have the courage of one’s convictions, to sacrifice, to risk life and limb, to lay it all on the line. “Historical figures” will reference Nelson Mandela.
I recall marching against apartheid with Oliver Tambo and the enormous rally at Trafalgar Square in November 1985. I later met with the prime minister, Margaret Thatcher to decry Britain’s economic, political and military support of the apartheid regime. Let us not forget that Britain, the US, all of the western powers, labelled Mandela a terrorist and steadfastly propped up the apartheid regime – they were on the wrong side of history. I appealed to her to support the release of Mandela, and departed for South Africa.