He set the bar so high, and no one could be called his peer, at least not during his lifetime, nor anyone in the modern era. His predecessor was Mahatma Gandhi, who initiated South Africa's struggle for freedom, equality and justice. Consider it a remarkable tag-team of sorts, as Gandhi spent the years 1893-1914 in South Africa, and then Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born in July 1918. His given name meant “troublemaker.” What a blessing for the future of South Africa that Mandela was the most savvy of troublemakers, and yet he was a nonviolent peacemaker and most forgiving resistance fighter. He left behind a legacy of magnanimous forgiveness, reconciliation and cooperation unlike any leader in the modern world.
As world leaders pour in their tributes to Mandela, one must pause and examine the wretched state of political leadership in the world today, which, ironically, is anathema to Mandela and his legacy and everything he stood for. Today's political world consists of greedy, selfish, power and wealth-obsessed politicians, with virtually no moral courage; no values or principles that embrace nonviolence, peace, forgiveness and reconciliation; and no backbone to stand up against corporate manipulators, lobbyists, corrupt individuals and white-collar criminals.
We live in a world today that is boiling over with violence, hatred, prejudices, lack of compassion and lack of empathy, hyper-materialism and blame games. We live in a world in which people break into fistfights while shopping. In many parts of the world, men rape girls and women with impunity. Justice is elusive and far from blind. Peacemaking has been rendered a distant dream, rather than a concrete reality, in so many cases. Souls have been lost, or sold for the right price. Dignity is killed for many every day. Political leaders are eager to embrace wars, conflicts, and militancy, rather than the high road of peace and true justice. Pushing buttons to obliterate targets on the ground in far off lands, presumably with no heartbeats that register in the minds of the “warfighters,” is taken as lightly as playing video games, or so it seems. Humanity is missing in action.
The stature of Mandela may be a shadow now, as he is laid to rest. But, while his legacy lives on in the hearts of millions of people, we must also mourn the state of political leadership globally. The very heads of state who are now conveying condolences and glorifying Mandela's name have blood on their hands, or have denied countless people justice, or have oppressed segments of society as viciously as the Apartheid regime, or taken bribes and undermined socioeconomic equality, or ignored the plight of the poor and underprivileged, or perpetuated gender violence or child abuse, or detained people without charge and permitted torture in cold, dark prisons, or chronically lied for their own self-interests at the expense of the public interests, or covered up crimes, or compelled their militaries to carry out a campaign out of their raw thirst for revenge with cold disregard for civilian casualties.
One must wonder how so many of these leaders who praise Mandela and remember his legacy fail to see their own contradictions. If they followed an ounce of Mandela's example, the world would be a better place.