Mandela legacy will live on

There can not have been many world leaders as loved and respected - nor who leave as large a legacy - as Nelson Mandela.

The anti-apartheid hero ruled as South Africa's first black president from 1994-99 after spending nearly three decades behind bars.

The 95-year-old reportedly died peacefully in his Johannesburg home. He had battled a recurrent lung condition which saw him hospitalised several times in the past couple of years, including a prolonged stay in hospital in Pretoria in the middle of the year. Many of his health problems stemmed from his 27-year imprisonment, which included hard labour in a limestone quarry, and during which time he contracted tuberculosis and had prostate surgery.

Although out of the spotlight for much of the past 10 years since his retirement from public life, he has certainly never been out of the hearts or minds of most South Africans, who regarded the ''father of the nation'' as a family member as much as a revered statesman, such was his emotional pull. The global esteem in which he was - is - held is also undeniable.

Mr Mandela, often referred to by his clan name, Madiba, spent many years campaigning against the apartheid regime under white minority rule. He joined the African National Congress in the early 1940s, helped form the ANC Youth League, and was appointed to leadership positions within both organisations during the following decade.

He opened the country's first black law firm with another ANC notable, the late Oliver Tambo, in 1952.

Mr Mandela successfully fought high-treason charges in the late 1950s, but was convicted on charges of sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government in 1962 and sentenced to five years in prison. In a further trial, he was sentenced in 1964 to life in prison.

He refused offers of freedom in the 1970s and 1980s, which were conditional on him renouncing armed struggle. The anti-apartheid cause was fought by many at home and abroad in his name and in 1990 the global campaign to ''Free Nelson Mandela'' was finally successful. Many will remember the euphoric scenes that greeted his release.

In 1991 he was elected ANC president. In 1993, he and then South Africa president F.W. de Klerk were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their roles in ending apartheid, and the following year he was elected president in the country's first democratic elections with universal suffrage.

His promised one-term rule was spent building a new multi-racial democratic South Africa and his subsequent work on his Nelson Mandela Foundation, Nelson Mandela Children's Fund and Mandela Rhodes Foundation continued to promote worthy social issues, support the vulnerable or disadvantaged, and encourage leadership.

Mandela Day, which is marked annually worldwide on his birthday (July 18), and which aims to inspire individuals to take action to help change the world for the better, will now also become a day to remember him, his struggle and his sacrifices.

In the face of hardship, cruelty and indifference, he continued to show love, compassion and understanding in his fight for social justice, freedom and equality.

His legendary words spoken from the dock at his 1964 sabotage trial, when he was facing the death penalty, and repeated upon his 1990 release, are also poignant: ''I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.''

It may have been a long walk to freedom but his legacy will go on through his foundations, the memories of generations of those whose lives he changed for the better, and all those fighting for social justice in the dark corners of the world. While his death is indeed a sad event, and it is hard for many to let go of him, his guiding light is so strong it will continue to shine for all those who choose to follow in his footsteps.

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