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South Africa's Inspirational Goodbye to Nelson Mandela

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Note: Having already shared with you my thoughts on Nelson Mandela, I had not intended to do so again. But that was before this morning's moving burial...

All this week, dignitaries and everyday folk have been bidding their goodbyes to one of the world's most inspiring leaders, and a superbly decent human being.

Flags have been flying at half-mast around the world. Newspapers and magazines led 10 days ago with stirring cover stories, and have followed with many touching tributes. And, whether in historical parliament buildings or in everyday school rooms, so many engaged in thoughtful discussions on this amazing man's achievements, what he stands for, and why.

This morning marked the final step in the formal process of the world saying goodbye to Mr. Mandela -- a small ceremony for family and close friends at a burial site on top of a lovely hill overlooking this amazing man's childhood home. There, Mr. Mandela's body will rest in peace next to three of his children.

The first part of the ceremony was shown on television just now. As I watched, I found myself wondering what could possibly be said by the speaker to constitute an appropriate set of final public remarks.

I was particularly struck by the two words that resonated loudly in these remarks: freedom and peace.

While I did not count the exact number, I noticed that these two simple words were repeated many times over -- and appropriately so. Like no others, they capture what makes Mr. Mandela so special; and why he will always -- and should always -- be such an inspirational example for so many generations around the world.

Mr. Mandela never stopped striving for freedom in his "long walk" -- and not his personal freedom but that of all, regardless of race, religion and gender.

His protracted and difficult quest for this type of freedom was firmly and unambiguously anchored in an all-encompassing concept of inclusiveness; and he pursued it at significant costs to himself and to his family.

During his nearly three decades of often-cruel imprisonment, Mr. Mandela was repeatedly offered his personal freedom provided he agreed to conditions that limited the freedom of others. Every single time, he refused. Whether in private or publicly, he resisted every and all attempts to drive a wedge between his personal well-being and that of others.

This visionary and selfless concept of freedom was closely linked to Mr. Mandela's equally-strong quest for durable and meaningful peace.

When finally freed and elected president, Mr. Mandela did not just opt for the already-challenging task of societal transformation. He also insisted on pursuing the even more difficult path of peaceful transformation.

Mr. Mandela willingly chose, and stuck with the much-more demanding of two already complex alternatives. In the process, he attached his legacy and long struggle to an objective that many deemed improbable if not impossible to deliver -- especially given South Africa's multi-decade history of brutal, inhumane and violent apartheid.

Whether it was the way he treated those who had imprisoned him or how he steadfastly resisted the calls for retribution from influential parts of his political base, Mr. Mandela truly lived his concept of "forgive but not forget." He repeatedly demonstrated to the rest of the world the true anchors of peaceful transformations, no matter how intricate and problematic the history and initial conditions.

Freedom and peace -- together -- explain why South Africa surprised so many in delivering a relatively smooth journey to democracy.

They speak loudly to why Mr. Mandela's concept of "truth and reconciliation" still resonates so loudly around the world; and will do so for many decades.

And, for many of us, they anchor the inspiring example that we aspire to follow in ensuring that this great man's great legacy is never overcome by the inevitable winds of time, exhaustion, skepticism and hubris.