After an accomplished 95-year-long life, Nelson Mandela passed away on Dec. 5, leaving behind an enduring legacy of his leadership and values.
Through joining the African National Congress, accusations of high treason, arrests, prison time, winning the Nobel Peace Prize, serving as the first black president of South Africa and continuing to lead after stepping down from leadership, Mandela led by example and affected many in the process.
Johannes Britz, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs for UW-Milwaukee, was born and raised in South Africa and believes Mandela’s legacy will continue to influence countless people.
“My wife and I watched all the videos last night again and just cried,” Britz said. “There is still much sadness, although he left behind his memories and his legacy.”
Adelaide Davis, UW-Madison alum, studied abroad in South Africa in 2012, and said reading Mandela’s biography was life-changing.
During her time abroad, Davis said she visited Robben Island, where Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years.
“Seeing the isolation of the island and the tiny island only impressed in me more the magnitude of sacrifices he made for his people, his country and the world,” Davis said.
UW history professor Neil Kodesh said Mandela’s moral conviction is what differentiated him from so many other leaders, and his reaction to his time in prison and life afterwards was incredible.
“For most human beings, being in prison and then released would breed anger,” Kodesh said. “Mandela came out of prison and held no resentment, harbored no anger and was genuine in this. Most of us wouldn’t have those feelings, those convictions.”
Mandela, which means the “father” when translated, improved the conditions immensely in South Africa, but by no means is the country’s struggle complete, Davis said.
Despite apartheid ending in the 90s, South Africa has much growing to do, but is a “country of incredible promise,” Davis added.
Mandela’s attitude, and thus ability to improve the country, changed the world in a way that had seldom been done before, Britz said.
“I don’t think in modern history there’s someone who could lead like him, who could rebuild a broken nation and bring it together with proudness,” Britz said.
Mandela’s unique convictions and remarkable story are what resonates with many people, as well as himself, and will continue to live on, Kodesh said.
“When Mandela died, it created a perfect venue to talk about what Mandela meant to South Africa and about some of the misconceptions about him,” Kodesh said. “Mandela was not a pacifist … it’s important to recognize this and think about how he was still able to change people’s lives.”
Britz said he anticipates that the UW-Milwaukee campus will have an event to commemorate Mandela’s life and Kodesh plans to use the final week of classes to discuss the changes which Mandela made possible.
Students today are deeply affected by learning about Mandela, Kodesh said, and he expects that this will continue in the future.
“He appeals to a generation who didn’t know of him while he was in prison,” Kodesh said. “He refused to stand by the status quo, treated opponents with respect and dignity and that is why he is so appealing to undergraduates.”