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Op-Ed Special
An Exemplary Life
By Carlton U. Forbes
Staff Writer & Columnist
Late S. African President Nelson Mandela

For most people, life is a struggle. For others, life is an experience fraught with uncertainties and changing fortunes. Then there are those who believe that life is best defined by the major events that inspire or transform us and others.

However, the appraisal of one’s life should not be determined by the attention-getting dramas that rattle us. Instead, life is the sum of one’s good and bad choices, wise and unwise decisions, the impact of one’s actions and thoughtful deliberations. So a life well lived is one that has affected friends and foes in meaningful ways, inspired neighbors and strangers; has attained the time-honored virtues worthy to be memorialized in the hearts and minds of people far and near.

This is the calculus that can be applied to the life of the late South African President Nelson Mandela. Indeed, his life is seen by many as a shining example of triumph over tragedy. Born in 1918 to the chief of a Tambu tribe, Mandela probably had the normal boyhood dreams of any black South African kids. One such dream was to live in a republic where freedom and equality was a reality for all South Africans. Alas, that was not to be without a lifetime of struggle.

After losing his father at age nine, Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo, acting regent of the Thembu Tribe took custody of the young lad. Realizing the value of a good education, Mandela's guardian sent him to the best schools that a Thembu regent could afford. In 1944, he graduated from college with a law degree. As most freshman lawyers, Mandela only wanted to live and work in a country where the civil rights of all South Africans would be respected and protected. Sadly, under the oppressive system of apartheid, Mandela’s dream of living in a free society was soon shattered by the harsh realities of a racist regime.

As blacks continued to lose more of their civil rights and liberties under an apartheid political system, Mandela felt he had no other option than to join the African National Congress as a civil rights activist. Not long after, Mandela was arrested, tried for treason, acquitted, arrested again, and was eventually convicted of subversion and treason. As a consequence of his conviction, he was given life imprisonment. However, as fate would have it, Mandela gained international attention as a symbol of resistance, while being a proud prisoner for a righteous cause.

Thanks to the ANC's underground operations as well as international pressure on the white supremacist government, F. W. de Klerk released the country's most famous prisoner and repealed all the apartheid laws. Once free, Mandela led the ANC to organize and transform itself into a potent political force, and took his campaign for democracy to the world stage. He also cooperated with the de Klerk government in rewriting the country's constitution that assured all ethnic groups in South Africa equal rights in matters of justice, law, self-determination and political participation.

In 1993, he shared the Nobel Peace Prize with F. W. de Klerk for promoting democracy and racial harmony. Then, in 1994, Mandela's ANC party won 60% percent of the votes in South Africa's first multiracial elections. He was sworn in a few months later as the country's first black president at the age of 75. Such noteworthy achievements help to solidify Nelson Mandela’s life is a symbol of triumph over tragedy.

Like Mandela, we may be forced to face life’s travails and trials, perplexing problems, persecution and perils. Nevertheless, we need not resort to hatred and vengeance. Instead, we can embrace the principled path of moral courage and exemplary leadership. So if your life is plagued with hardships, dramas and traumas, be assured that when you fight for the betterment of society, you are following the footsteps of Moses, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. They fought the good fight, and their triumphs have made the world better.

Granted, fighting the good fight is never easy. Still, the fight for justice, civil liberties, and the inalienable rights of all men must be fought with faith, fortitude and divine grace. God is always on the side of fairness, freedom, goodness and justice. When we fight on God’s side, even hardships can be endured, physical limitations can be overcome, daunting challenges can be met with confidence and stern determination. For God specializes in turning defeat into triumphs.

God can turn your failures into successes. He can transform faithlessness into righteousness.

God can turn your troubles into tributes. He can make your life a living symbol of triumph over tragedy.

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Carlton U. Forbes, who serves as staff writer & columnist for The Seoul Times, currently teaches Global English at Dongyang University in S. Korea's Yeongju City. Among the books he authored are "A Few Choice Words" and "ESL Teaching Aids." A resident of S. Korea for over a decade Prof. Forbes can be reached at






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