Remembering Nelson Mandela

Dec. 6, 2013

Nelson Mandela was more than just South Africa's anti-apartheid leader, says Emory African studies professor Pamela Scully. She says he was the path to reconciliation after nearly 50 years of racial segregation and minority rule.  

"[Nelson Mandela] might not be a perfect man but he was a pretty perfect leader," says Scully, a native South African.  

Mandela, South Africa's first black president, passed away Thursday, Dec. 5. He was 95 years old. Emory University history professor and Director of African Studies Clifton Crais says Mandela's legacy and leadership will always be remembered.  

"Nelson Mandela will be remembered as one of the more extraordinary figures of the 20th century," says Crais. "I'd consider Mandela at the very top of the most influential leaders of the past century along with people like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King," says Crais. "Mandela led South Africa away from the brink of civil war and helped put the country on the path of democracy and reconciliation."  

As the leader of the anti-apartheid movement, Mandela spent 27 years in jail before being released in 1990 and becoming the first democratically elected president in the country's history in 1994. Scully says during her childhood education, she did not learn the truth about Nelson Mandela and the freedom struggle, but when she learned of him it made her question everything she was taught.  

 "There's a reason he's been mythologized," says Scully. "He was in fact an incredibly wonderful human being, but it was actually his being a human being that inspires us to be like [him] because he was not a saint. He was a normal man who was willing to seize the day and do something incredibly meaningful with his life. So, he has a lesson for all of us."