Washington, DC — He was a native son of South Africa, but that nation will surely pardon the rest of the world for claiming Nelson Mandela as one of our own as well. President Mandela was the champion, the avenger, the soldier and the statesman for all who despise injustice, having courageously put his own liberty and life on the line so that his oppressed countrymen and women could breathe free.
I first heard of him when I was in college and already engaged in the fight to end apartheid in that beautiful country on Africa's southern tip. As a member of my university's first South African Divestment Coalition in the 70's, I drew upon Mr. Mandela's commitment to fuel my own.
Later, as the first Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Africa, I was honored to meet the heroic Mr. Mandela in person with President Clinton. Though President Mandela would not have remembered it, I shall never forget the warm embrace he gave me once -- an affectionate gesture that I found surprising until I realized that he had mistaken me for Oprah Winfrey.
Although humankind is poorer for the loss of Mr. Mandela, the loss is mitigated by the joy and privilege of having had him in our midst. Many aspire to leave the world better than they found it. Nelson Mandela actually did it, fortifying freedom, opportunity and justice.
Rosa Whitaker is President and CEO, The Whitaker Group. She was working in South Africa when President Mandela passed away.