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Mandela's Legacy

I have had the opportunity to visit South Africa on several occasions - most recently to see World Cup games in Johannesburg and Rustenburg. The games themselves were exciting. Even more so was the exuberance of the South Africans themselves; various cities provided huge outside screens so that those who could not attend the games could participate in the events. And tens of thousands did. Mostly young people. Blacks, whites and many other citizens of this richly diverse country -- singing, dancing, cheering, drinking beer, and blowing their vuvuzelas together.

This made me reflect on Nelson Mandela's legacy to his nation. Mandela, who marked his 92nd birthday on Sunday, is one of the great leaders of our era. It is worth reviewing what this remarkable man accomplished and the lessons we all can learn from his moral and political leadership.

Most leaders are at their prime in their 40s, 50s and perhaps 60s. Mandela was over 70 when he was released from prison and then elected president of South Africa. He became leader of a nation with a brutal and prejudiced past -- and deep racial and cultural divides. Yet the years he spent on Robben Island and then Pollsmoor Prison, a maximum security facility near Cape Town, did not embitter Mandela. He emerged determined to heal the divisions in his country and overcome its tragic history.

South Africa is hardly a country without problems; poverty and joblessness present major challenges. And there are still divisions in some quarters. But it is also a country in which hope and optimism have triumphed over bitterness and repression. Shosholoza, the popular and beautiful song sung at soccer games and elsewhere, means go forward in Zulu. That is what most South Africans have done.

And the world has shown its respect for South Africa's accomplishments. A country that, in Mandela's words, had suffered "the indignity of being the skunk of the world," is now a respected member of the Group of Twenty - the global leaders that steer the international economy. It plays a peacemaking role in other parts of Africa and is a key participant in countless international institutions. It was awarded the role of host of the 1995 Rugby World Cup, as anyone who saw the powerful film Invictus, knows and, of course, the recently completed Soccer World Cup.

America's Founding Fathers sought to "secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity." So did Mandela. And he also succeeded. But his lesson extends well beyond South Africa. He has inspired millions throughout the world. At its most fundamental level, he understood the meaning of freedom. "To be free," he said," is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others." If there is one single principle that nations and peoples should live by to make the world a better place - I can think of none better. And no finer tribute to a truly visionary and remarkable man - one of the great moral forces of our, or any, era.

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