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Mandela’s meaning for the threatened future of humanity


With his death, Nelson Mandela has been imbedded in the collective unconsciousness of humanity, never ever to fade away, because he has been transformed into a universal archetype, that of an unjustly condemned person who harbored no rancor, who knew how to forgive, how to reconcile antagonistic poles, and who gave us an undying hope that there are still solutions to the human condition. After spending 27 years in jail and being elected President of South Africa in 1994, he proposed and accomplished the great challenge of transforming a society that was structured on the supreme injustice of apartheid, that dehumanized the great Black majorities of his country, who were condemned to being non-persons, into a unique society, united without discrimination, democratic and free.

And he accomplished that by choosing the path of virtue, forgiveness and reconciliation. To forgive is not to forget. The wounds are still there, many of them still fester. To forgive is not to give the last word to bitterness and the spirit of revenge, or to allow it to determine the path of life. To forgive is to liberate people from the chains of the past, to turn the page on Blacks and Whites, and to start writing on another. Reconciliation is only possible and real when crimes are openly admitted by their authors, and victims have full knowledge of their acts. The punishment of the criminals is the moral condemnation of the entire society.

One of his solutions, a very original one, presupposes a concept that is alien to our individualistic culture: Ubuntu. It means: “I only can be myself through you and with you”. Thus, without an enduring bond that links all with all, a society will be, as is ours, in danger of tearing itself apart with endless conflict.

In all the school books around the world should be found this humanist affirmation by Mandela: “I struggled against domination by the Whites and struggled against domination by the Blacks. I cultivated the ideal of a democratic and free society, where all persons can live in harmony together and have equal opportunities. This is my ideal and I hope to live long enough to attain it.  But, if it be necessary, I am ready to die for this ideal”.

Why has Mandela’s life and saga created hope in the future of humanity and in our civilization? Because we have reached the nucleus of a conjunction of crises that could threaten our future as human species. We plainly are in sixth great mass extinction. Cosmologists (Brian Swimme) and biologists (Edward Wilson) warn us that if things continue as they are, this devastating process could culminate by 2030. This means that the belief shared by the whole world, including Brazil, that material economic growth will bring us social, cultural and spiritual development, is an illusion. We are living in times of hopeless barbarism.

I will quote a person who is above all suspicion, Samuel P. Huntington, former Pentagon advisor and shrewd analyst of the process of globalization, who at the end of his book, Clash of Civilizations says: “Law and order are the first pre-requisites of civilization; in large parts of the world they seem to be evaporating; on a world scale, civilization appears, in many aspects, to be giving way to barbarism, creating the specter of an unprecedented phenomenon, a worldwide Dark Age, falling on humanity”  (1997:409-410).

I will add the opinion of the well known philosopher and political scientist Norberto Bobbio who, like Mandela, believed in human rights and democracy, as values to solve the problem of violence between States, and lead to a pacific coexistence. In his last interview he declared: “I would not know what to say as to what the Third Millennium will be like. My certainties fail and only an enormous question mark swirls in my head: will it be the millennium of the war of extinction, or the millennium of concord between human beings? I cannot possibly answer that question”.

Facing these somber prospects Mandela would surely respond, based on his political experience: yes, it is possible for the human being to reconcile with himself, for the human being to give precedence to his sapiens dimension over his demens dimension, and to inaugurate a new form of being together in the same House. Perhaps there is value in the words of his great friend, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who coordinated the Truth and Reconciliation process: “Having confronted the beast of the past, face to face, having asked and received forgiveness, let us now turn the page: not to forget that past, but not to let it oppress us forever. Let us advance towards a glorious future of a new society where people are valued not for irrelevant biological reasons or other strange attributes, but because they are persons, of infinite value, created in the image of God.”

Nelson Mandela leaves us this lesson of hope: we can live, if, without discrimination, we make Ubuntu a reality

Free translation from the Spanish sent by
Melina Alfaro,,


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