NEWBURYPORT — To say Nelson Mandela left South Africa, and indeed the world, a better place than he found it is an understatement.
His death on Thursday at the age of 95 marked the end of a life of that not only changed the history of his nation, but affected those living under oppression in every corner of every continent, providing hope that justice and freedom can be bought with persistence, peace and forgiveness, not with blood and hatred.
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born in 1918 into a nation with a government policy of apartheid, which, although 80 percent of its population was of black African descent, legalized racial segregation. Its laws discriminated against nonwhites in every manner of daily life — educationally, politically, legally and economically.
Mandela started his public crusade against apartheid in the 1940s, becoming a lawyer and leader in the movement to overthrow the racist government. He was eventually imprisoned for 27 years for his anti-apartheid actions, a political prisoner who became the symbol of the injustice of apartheid on the world stage.
International pressure led to his release from jail, but not until 1990, when he found a nation filled with social unrest and ripe for civil war. Instead of fostering violent revolution, Mandela worked together with those who persecuted him to eradicate apartheid. He earned the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, and became the first black president of the new democratic Republic of South Africa in 1994. Stepping down from the presidency in 1999, he remained a powerful global presence and philanthropist.
Many in the region remembered Mandela yesterday as a man whose legacy of harmony, not hatred, would live as an example forever.
When Newburyport Mayor Donna Holaday heard Mendala had died, she said she paused to think through his impact on the world.
“He was an amazing advocate as far as what he was willing to endure to fight apartheid,” Holaday said. “He will go down in history as one of the greatest leaders in the world, a force for reconciliation and peace. His ability to bring people together was remarkable.”