Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president, is dead. As South African president Jacob Zuma announced the 95-year-old’s passing this morning, world leaders past and present lined up to pay tribute to the icon of equality.

The tributes will keep coming, as they should. There are many reasons to praise Mandela: his commitment to justice, his perseverance, his ability to lead. But, perhaps above all else, his remarkable capacity to forgive stands out. After 27 years in prison, Mandela could hardly have been blamed for hating his captors and political enemies. It would have been easy, understandable even, to fuel division between black and white. Yet he never did. While never wavering from his beliefs, Mandela used freedom to pursue reconciliation, not resentment. As he once remarked: “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”

In an inglorious week of domestic news — petty political posturing about school education, revelations Australia spied on a poor, vulnerable neighbour for commercial advantage, attacks on journalists and whistleblowers — it’s a message worth remembering. Vale Mandela.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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