His long walk is finally ended

HIS death had been anticipated for some time, although the international outpouring of grief surprised even the most seasoned observers.

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South African military officers carry the coffin of Nelson Mandela to lie in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
South African military officers carry the coffin of Nelson Mandela to lie in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria

Nelson Mandela has become an icon of our time.

A man, whose selflessness, belief and dignity helped characterise the values that we hold precious: freedom, sacrifice, justice, equality and humanity.

Born in 1918, in South Africa's Cape Province, Mandela attended university and graduated in Law.

His ability to practise Law remained largely untested as he embarked on a twin crusade of politics and social activism.

Mandela railed against the apartheid politics of South Africa, and eventually, in 1962, after leading a sabotage campaign against the government, he was sentenced to life imprisonment for conspiracy to overthrow the state.

Mandela spent the next 27 years in jail. During that time, the apartheid regime in South Africa became internationally isolated and with escalating levels of civil unrest, looked increasingly unsustainable.

In 1990, and to huge world acclaim, the regime set Mandela free.

It was a historic moment in living memory, and in world politics.

Mandela spent the next few years working closely with the country's then president, F. W. De Clerk, to abolish apartheid and to establish the country's first multi-racial elections in 1994.

As President of the African National Congress ( ANC ), Mandela accepted his candidacy for President.

With his overwhelming support, allied to a promise of "No more White Domination,,,No new Black Domination" Mandela swept to power and was sworn in as South Africa's first Black President in 1994.

After a single term of office, Mandela stood down in 1999.

As an 81-year-old man, he could be forgiven for seeking to hand over the reins to a younger successor.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu criticised Mandela, reflecting that, as President, he had surrounded himself with under-performing and incompetent ministers.

Many observers believed that Mandela continued to demonstrate loyalty to colleagues, even after they had let him down.

Mandela himself was worried about painting a saint-like image to the world and with his ANC riven with corruption, scandals and division, the political reality often differed from the activists' dream.

Post Mandela's death, South Africa remains a country plagued by woeful economic inequality and disillusionment, a far cry from the hope and vision he offered all those years ago.

The ANC remain favourites to win next year's General Election, yet their leader and the country's current president, Jacob Zuma, was loudly booed during his address at Mandela's memorial service in Soweto.

Several of Mandela's children have spoken of him being absent in their lives while they were growing up, and not as a consequence of his status as a prisoner of apartheid, but the needs of politics and public duty.

Unlike Ghandi, Mandela endorsed the use of violence in the fight against apartheid.

It is likely that he will be remembered more for his journey, than his country's destination; for his autobiography, The Long Walk To Freedom, rather than his record as president.

Yet, his story remains remarkable.

Mandela had one too many flaws, in both his public and private lives, to be labelled a saint.

Yet, in freeing South Africa, he is exalted as such, by so many.

Mandela held the values of equality and freedom so close, that he would sooner die than renounce them.

He spent 27 years in prison, and, but for other factors, would have died there.

This was truly a great man, an example to all of us, an inspiration, a true icon.

Among so many inspirational things that this great man said during his lifetime, one has always struck me as special.

He said: "What counts in life, is not the mere fact that we have lived ... it is what difference we have made to the lives of others, that will determine the significance of the life we lead."

Few lives will ever prove as significant as Nelson Mandela's.

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