Remembering Nelson Mandela

He is smiling broadly and is surrounded by jubilant South African schoolchildren. He also has his fist in the air, as do the kids. This mix of empowerment and joyousness typified the Mandela persona.

He was a hero of mine since college, when I was active in the anti-apartheid movement. I used to wear a button on my lumber jacket with his face on it and the slogan “Freedom for the People of South Africa.”

I vividly remember seeing him walk out of prison on February 11, 1990. He emerged, in suit and tie, with clenched fist in the air, and said, “Amandla!” (Power!)

Back then, June Jordan, the defiant poet and essayist, wrote a column for The Progressive about how exhilarating it was to see Mandela free at last. In her piece, “Mandela and the Kingdom Come,” (PDF) she wrote: “I am crying because I am overwhelmed by victory.”

He wasn’t perfect. As Naomi Klein has written in her indispensable "Shock Doctrine," he allowed the IMF and Washington to curtail his dreams of economic justice for the poor majority of South Africans.

But as a symbol of resistance and resoluteness and courage and forgiveness, he was part Muhammad Ali, part Aung San Suu Kyi, and part Lincoln.

We won’t see his likes again.