The death on Thursday of Nelson Mandela, the antiapartheid activist whose career ranged from decades of imprisonment to presiding over world-changing elections in South Africa, sparked introspection and remembrances across the Loyola Marymount campus.
Professor Wole Soyinka, like Mandela a Nobel laureate and leading figure in the struggle for independence and freedom in Africa, was succinct: “The soul of Africa has departed, and there is nothing miraculous left in the world,” he said.
For many, the former South African president was an inspiring figure. “Nelson Mandela’s unselfishness and commitment to racial equality against forces that had military and economic might on their side is a testament to the idea of humanity that should inspire us all,” said Dexter Blackman, professor of history at LMU.
For Michael Genovese, professor of political science and director of the Institute for Leadership Studies, the one time he was able to meet Mandela left him moved and humbled.
“After suffering in rotten prisons for 27 years, he emerged, not bitter and hateful, but full of love and compassion,” Genovese said. “How does a person summon the moral strength to do that? I was in awe; I am still in awe. And he gives one the faint hope that perhaps we too can bring out what Abraham Lincoln referred to as ‘the better angels’ in ourselves.”
Chijoke Azuawusiefe, S.J., a member of LMU’s Jesuit community from Nigeria, remembered Mandela’s disinterest in clinging to power — a stark contrast to the regimes that preceded his leadership.
“His insistent call for his people to rise above racial hatred, as well as his commitment to national reconciliation in post-apartheid South Africa, birthed a rainbow nation and helped reposition the country as a leading economy on the continent,” Azuawusiefe said.
Professor Tom Plate recalled seeing Mandela speak in Los Angeles in 1990 and again at the World Economic Forum in 1991, after his release from prison but before free elections had been held in South Africa.
“Sitting next to him in that hotel room had to fill you with awe. Why is he so different?” Plate wrote in his syndicated news column. “What makes him so great? Why can’t I be more like him? Is the distance between him and the rest of us the huge difference between something that is just hard to describe and – well – the mere mortal?”
Brad Stone, professor of philosophy and chair of the African American Studies department, saw parallels between Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr., as Mandela’s life story demonstrated for him the truth of King’s statement that “the arc of history bends toward justice.”
“The arc of history revealed itself through Mandela’s later years, as he became the face and voice of freedom throughout the world. Yet, we must praise Mandela not for being such a face and voice, but for keeping the fire of justice kindled in his heart, while directly facing the consequences of injustice,” Stone said. “The battle was not a short one, and many others would have given up, but Mandela shows us that faith in justice—the belief that justice is in the end going to be the only reality—can be a way of life.”
Mandela, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, died at the age of 95 from complications related to a long-running lung infection.
For more on his life and legacy, view the obituaries at the Los Angeles Times, CNN, or NPR.