Nelson Mandela (left) during a meeting at the World Council of Churches in 1990 in Geneva, Switzerland with Emilio Castro (Secretary General World Council of Churches, middle) and Soo Min-Lee (Secretary General, World Alliance of YMCAs, rigth)
President Nelson Mandela was a shining light and a moral force, an amazing icon for all of us. One man alone was able to move the world forward to a better place. All by himself he changed the most important perspectives for mankind.
After Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment at the Rivonia trial, he spent 18 years on Robben Island as Prisoner 466/64 – the 466th prisoner registered in 1964. In 1982 he was transferred to Pollsmoor prison near Cape Town, and later to the low-security Victor Verster prison near Paarl in the Western Cape, from where he was released in 1990.
Coming out of an imprisonment long as a lifetime he carried forgiveness, grace, love and was fighting for justice and a total renewal of his country. Not through bloodshed and violence, but through truth and reconciliation. In this way, through his unique example, he changed all important perspectives for us. For a generation coming out of the Vietnam War, Watergate, racism and terror on global scale, hope was lost, faith in good leaders was lost, and we were in bad need of encouragement and light and inspiration.
Then out of a prison cell in South Africa came this man, prisoner 466/64 and nothing was the same anymore. He did incredible things, and he continued to do incredible things, and he did not fail, he did not rest, he did not stop. Doing good. He lifted up some very old values and in the black hands of this giant out of Africa these old values started to shine for a whole generation of disillusioned cynics.
The light shining out of Nelson Mandela continued to lead the way for all of us. He inspired us to continue to fight against racism and prejudice against HIV-Aids victims, he inspired us to fight against poverty and violence and to build a genuinely positive future for all people.
Nelson Mandela made it possible to believe in ideals again, he made it credible to live like idealists and fight for seemingly lost causes against terrible resistance from merciless capitalism and military power going wild.
Nelson Mandela was a friend of all young people. He was a friend of civil society, of voluntary organizations. He was also a friend of the YMCA. He belonged to all of us. He was and is the only true world leader I have ever experienced.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the people of South Africa, to his family and friends. We feel real grief today. The Chief is dead. He will continue to live forever in our hearts.