Nelson Mandela, who passed away recently, was a great leader for South Africa and a model for humanity. We have to learn from his life, and new generations should follow his example of peaceful struggle, tolerance and forgiveness.

I worked in the United Nations Center against Apartheid from 1978 until the liberation of South Africa in 1994. The life of Mandela, even while he was in prison, provided a good example in tolerance and reconciliation to peoples around the world.

Although the African National Council of South Africa, as all liberation movements in the global south, began with armed struggle, under Mandela's leadership it moved toward peaceful struggle to end apartheid.

He conveyed to his political supporters the need to maintain the peaceful nature of their struggle. The anti-apartheid movements around the world, particularly in the United States and Europe, were inspired by the peaceful struggle of Mandela. Those movements were instrumental in persuading reluctant Western powers to adopt economic sanctions as the most effective peaceful measures to end the system of strict racial oppression.

Groups of women, workers, students and all sectors of the society in the United States were instrumental in fostering support for the struggle of the people of South Africa against apartheid.

I recall that many student groups in the United States began a campaign for the release of Nelson Mandela from prison, collecting keys that they took to the United Nations as a symbol of solidarity.


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Under international pressure, the government of South Africa informed Mandela that he would be released from prison. But because he did not want to give the world the wrong impression, he insisted that there first should be an agreement on ending the apartheid system.

After his release, Mandela requested that the international community maintain the sanctions to ensure the peaceful transition of South Africa to a democratic and nonracial system of government.

One of the projects I was working on to increase the pressure of the United Nations was the oil embargo against South Africa, which was endorsed by the U.N. General Assembly.

Anti-apartheid movements in the United States and Europe, and particularly in the Netherlands, were instrumental in that project. After Mandela's release, a book was published by the Dutch anti-apartheid movements, which began with an introduction by Mandela recognizing the important roles of the United Nations and anti-apartheid movements in promoting sanctions as peaceful means to end apartheid.

I was requested to write a chapter on the role of the United Nations in the oil embargo.

After his election to the presidency, the United Nations sent a delegation to South Africa, and I was member of that delegation. I was impressed by the humility and kindness of Mandela.

He held a news conference and I was there. Before it began, and despite his tremendous responsibilities and engagements, he talked to the journalists and asked each about their work and their families.

Notwithstanding his many years in prison and the brutality of the apartheid regime against black South Africans, Mandela was instrumental in preventing any revengeful or retaliatory actions against the white minority in South Africa.

On the contrary, he was against violence, whether it was perpetrated by whites or blacks, even for the apartheid security forces that had been involved in torture and death in South Africa. His government established a truth and reconciliation commission that helped to renounce past practices and to integrate society.

The decision of Mandela to run for only one term should be a model for many leaders, particularly those in the global south, who would not hesitate to resort to violence to maintain power.

It is essential for educational institutions to teach the children of the world about peaceful struggle, tolerance and forgiveness as practiced by Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela.

Amer Araim is an adjunct professor of political science at Diablo Valley College and a former Iraqi diplomat.