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Mandela, 20th century's most extraordinary man

[ 2013-12-09 09:49] 来源:中国日报网     字号 [] [] []  
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The list of nominees for greatest man of the 20th century is as short as it is extraordinary.

Franklin Roosevelt is the obvious American candidate. He guided the United States safely through the century's gravest traumas, the Great Depression and World War II. His indelible New Deal imprint still shapes America today.

The British would surely nominate Winston Churchill, the charismatic wartime prime minister who saved his nation from the Nazis.

Let us not forget giants of science like Albert Einstein or Thomas Edison. Or certainly Mohandas Gandhi, whose strategy of peaceful resistance shucked India's colonial yoke and inspired Martin Luther King Jr.

But the list would not be complete without the name of Nelson Mandela, the remarkable South African who died Thursday at 95. It's hard to name anyone, anywhere, in any time whose life is quite a match for his.

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Like King and Gandhi, Mandela led his people to freedom, ending the apartheid rule of South Africa's brutal white-minority regime. But neither of those men, nor the others mentioned here, was put to such an extraordinary personal test.

All you need to know to grasp the uniqueness of Mandela is this: He spent 27 years in prison, most of them in solitary confinement pounding rocks at the notorious Robben Island prison. He was given no hope and allowed little contact with the outside world. Yet instead of yielding to his plight — or betraying his cause by speaking a few words that could have set him free — he persevered, leading in absentia against all odds and emerging victorious, a leader of such stature that his oppressors could not stand against him.

And then, at his moment of triumph, with the presidency of South Africa in his hands, he sought not revenge for all that had been done to him but racial peace for his people, black and white, which — incredibly — he achieved.

Such is the power of history's few truly great leaders and the examples they set. If Mandela could suffer as he did without seeking vengeance, then how could others do any less? And how could the nation's fearful and suspicious white minority turn away the olive branch?

Whether Mandela's legacy can endure remains an open question.

Unlike the United States at its founding, South Africa has not been blessed with a succession of great leaders. Since Mandela's retirement in 1999, the presidency has been held by a succession of lackluster men, and so the deep problems left behind by apartheid have festered.

Crime and illiteracy are rampant, as is corruption. The unemployment rate is 25%, and far worse among the young. Life expectancy, barely over 50 years, is among the world's lowest.

As long as Mandela survived, even with his capacity ravaged by his age and the harshness of his life, the simmering South African cauldron could not bubble over. No one dared upset their beloved Madiba.

Perhaps that cannot last. What South Africa needs, like so many other strife-torn nations, is another Mandela. But such leaders are the rarest of things. They attain the impossible and pass on. But they are remembered. They are admired, and to the extent that they are emulated, their impact lives on.

No one will soon forget Nelson Mandela, if not the greatest man of the 20th century, certainly the most extraordinary.


















(译者 王艾晨 编辑 丹妮)