If truth be told, Mandela's advocacy has shown very little light even in his country. South Africa has a serious problem with its LGBTQ population, and especially with lesbians. And its method to remedy its "problem" with lesbians is "corrective rape."
Mandela's death sparked an almost forgotten allure toward hero worship. That was once reserved for outstanding Americans, who epitomized Americans' understanding of history and heroism. In this context, our president led the way.
In 1996, I was back in South Africa to present my credentials to President Mandela as the U.S. Ambassador. "I have come to exchange my 'free Mandela' sign for my credentials as the United States Ambassador," I said. He loved it.
It is easier for some, like they did Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to embrace him in death than it is to remember that in his life, he challenged us all to confront our hatred of one another and to free our minds of prejudice.
We had just arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa from snowy New York City. It was suddenly the middle of summer, the garden was lush and green, and there was a sparkling pool outside our window beckoning us. All year we had dreamed of our new life in Africa.
The passing of Nelson Mandela brought back to mind many of the lessons of that experience and what they mean for us today here at home. No system, however evil, is ever permanent. And no system, no matter how righteous, just continues to be so without eternal vigilance.
President F.W. de Klerk, the one responsible for Mandela's freedom, was more sanguine: "I was struck by an inescapable truth: an irreversible process had begun -- and nobody could predict precisely how it would end."
We need Mandela's same brave determined spirit if we're to take on the impossible task of trying to end war, poverty, hunger, gun violence, drones, executions, nuclear weapons and environmental destruction.
Contrary to belief, the malignant treatment by the U.S. of Mandela didn't end with his release from prison in 1990, the official unbanning of his African National Congress, or even his becoming the first democratically elected President of South Africa in 1993.
When I come home and announce that they're lighting lanterns at Madiba for Mandela, she jumps up and asks if it's his birthday again. I explain that this time they're not celebrating the beginning of his life but the end of it.