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By AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
By The Bakersfield Californian
He answered to many names: Madiba, Tata, liberator, savior, father of the nation. But the one name that made all of the others possible was "revolutionary."
Without the courage to stand against his country's uniquely corrupt brand of racism, Nelson Mandela would have lived out his life subjugated by an unjust system -- and the Republic of South Africa might never have risen from the social and political paralysis that enslaved its people and separated it from the community of nations.
Nelson Mandela, born Rolihlahla Dalibhunga Mandela on July 18, 1918, was, as writer Eve Fairbanks once called him, South Africa's "Washington and Lincoln rolled into one."
Mandela died at his home at 8:50 p.m. Thursday local time. "Our nation has lost its greatest son," President Jacob Zuma said in a televised address announcing Mandela's passing. "His humility, his compassion and his humanity earned him our love."
He was one of the 20th century's great men of peace -- but unlike Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., two of the very few whose achievements can stand alongside his, Mandela recognized that nonviolent resistance to oppression would have no impact in the South African police state. That realization cost him decades of his freedom; it nearly cost him his life.
As a child, Mandela dreamed of contributing to the freedom struggle of his people. South Africa's first black president clearly exceeded those aspirations -- but not without strife.
In 1952 Mandela led the Campaign for the Defiance of Unjust Laws, a program of nonviolent resistance that saw thousands of South Africans defying apartheid laws in major cities. That year he was charged with violating the Suppression of Communism Act and spent the next 38 years on trial and in prison for his involvement in various protests deemed treasonous. Mandela was released in February 1990, thanks largely to international pressure, and in May 1994 made history by becoming South Africa's first democratically elected president.
Mandela won all the awards one would expect of a man of his stature, but none so memorable as the one he shared with South Africa's last apartheid-era president, F.W. de Klerk. The men shared the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize "for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa."
Even that plaudit understates Mandela's contributions. As it turns out, his courage and sacrifice continue to fortify democratic foundations across the globe.
In his 1964 trial, Mandela opened his defense with his historic "Speech from the Dock," saying, "I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."
Such was Mandela's commitment to a principle that we in the United States like to believe was born and nurtured here.
But no patriot, of any nation or any age, ever spoke with more conviction or acted with greater purpose for the cause of democracy and social justice than Mandela -- liberator, savior, revolutionary.