Mandela was also responsible for pushing South Africa into being the first country on the continent to ban anti-gay stigma and was a strong promoter of marriage equality. Eventually, in 2006, it became the first country in Africa and the fifth in the world to legalise same-sex marriage. That was an achievement that LGBT organisations across the world are still drop-jawed about in 2013! He also ensured that LGBT people got jobs at the highest levels of society and in politics and the courts of law. The "Rainbow Nation," a label invented by his ally and friend, Bishop Desmond Tutu, began to look a reality, although in 2013 like everywhere around the world, it's a tenuous victory. The vicious anti-gay laws in many parts of Africa are trying hard to reverse the example set by South Africa.
During the last few years when he was still fit enough, Nelson Mandela travelled the world and was welcomed both in the highest circles and by the common man, as a respected world leader. What he said carried enormous publicity and credibility and his tireless fight against HIV has created numerous successes across the globe.
At the first concert of his 46664 charity in Cape Town, he said, "AIDS is no longer just a disease, it is a human rights issue."
And at the opening of the Second International AIDS Society (IAS) Conference on HIV Pathogenesis and Treatment on July 14, 2003, he stated:
By all accounts, we are dealing with the greatest health crisis in human history. By all measures, we have failed in our quest to contain and treat this scourge ... The more we lack the courage and the will to act, the more we condemn to death our brothers and sisters, our children and our grandchildren. When the history of our times is written, will we be remembered as the generation that turned our backs in a moment of a global crisis or will it be recorded that we did the right thing?
In Tromso, Norway, he went on:
AIDS today in Africa is claiming more lives than the sum total of all wars, famines and floods and the ravages of such deadly diseases as malaria ... We must act now for the sake of the world.
At other conferences and top-level meetings, he pushed the point home:
The ordinary people of the world, particularly the poor -- who on our continent will again carry a disproportionate burden of this scourge -- would wish that the dispute about the primacy of politics or science be put on the backburner and that we proceed to address the needs and concerns of those suffering and dying. And this can only be done in partnership. History will judge us harshly if we fail to do so right now.
Wasting words and energy in worthless ridicule distracts us from our main course of action, which must be not only to develop an AIDS vaccine, but also to love, care for, and comfort those who are dying of HIV/AIDS. A vaccine shall only prevent the further spread of HIV/AIDS to those not already infected; we must also direct our concern towards those who are already HIV positive.
I'm not throwing in quotes to fill up an article, but to illustrate just what sort of impact a man like Mandela could have. He was always aware that many people hung on his every word, so those words had to be chosen carefully and although HIV/AIDS is by no means conquered or even under control, without Mandela's wisdom, many people in many lands would possibly be far worse off than they are now. Michel Sidibe, the executive director of UNAIDS, said of Mandela:
He was the one who really helped us break the conspiracy of silence. ... His legacy is that of non-discrimination, inclusiveness, and making sure that we will continue to fight for the rights of people without rights. ... That is what he brought to the fight against HIV/AIDS.
It's clear that Mandela's fight is nowhere near over and it's almost certain that he has died with a sense of a job unfinished and frustration at continued entrenched ideas in his own country. South Africa's current president Jacob Zuma has been severely criticised for telling a court hearing that he could not have HIV after having sex with a positive partner, because he washed after sex. There is still an enormous amount of work to do in tackling both poverty and winning hearts and minds; but you shudder at the thought of what might have happened if Mandela hadn't lived and been the man he was.
He wasn't a saint and said so himself. I'm sure after the coming weeks you'll be left with the impression that this man could walk on water, but it was his quiet dignity and humanity that impressed me the most. He was a political martyr, courageous, heroic, a moral leader and South African national liberator. He was presidential, reconciliatory and highly respected, but people who can move mountains with a whisper are often the greatest leaders. Like Ghandi and King before him, it was his presence in a room that could sway opinions and make world leaders agree to his every request. Similarly, he had the personality that made ordinary people leading ordinary lives think of him as a role model they would like their children to grow up to be. As Rudyard Kipling said in "If":
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings -- nor lose the common touch ...
Nelson Mandela could do that and because of that, millions across the world will stop still at his funeral and pay respects to a man the likes of which comes along very rarely.
Hamba kahle Madiba.
The following YouTube video will surely give you a sense of the man and what he meant to his country.
Read Dave's blog HIV, Neuropathy and More: Avoiding Becoming a Nervous Wreck.