The American Friends Service Committee mourns the loss of Nelson Mandela, whose passing today is a time for reflection on the astonishing transformation he spearheaded in South Africa and the inspiring leadership he provided after apartheid fell.

A symbol of global peacemaking, Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 along with South African President F.W. de Klerk.

Imprisoned for 27 years, Mandela nonetheless remained the most powerful voice rallying worldwide support for the long struggle against South Africa’s racist policies. The world responded to his call by building a resolute anti-apartheid campaign here and abroad. The struggle for racial equality in South Africa strongly resonated with AFSC and its partners who united to support economic sanctions, boycotts, protest marches, fundraisers, and other actions pressuring the South African government.

Upon his release from prison in 1990, we—and millions around the world—were deeply moved by the dignity and forbearance with which he negotiated the multi-racial elections that finally ended apartheid and resulted in his election as South Africa’s president in 1994. Mandela’s commitment to truth and reconciliation as the basis for peace and prosperity has become a worldwide beacon for communities emerging from conflict and oppression.

Nelson Mandela once said, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” 

Let us take inspiration from both his words and his deeds as the struggle for justice, peace, and reconciliation continues.

Thoughts and remembrances

Reflections from AFSC partners, supporters, former AFSC staff and others inspired by the life and work of this global icon. 

Visiting Robben Island in 2010 was a moving reminder of the power of the unconquerable human spirit. Thank you for your relentless commitment to freedom, dignity, and justice. Thank you for the inspiring example you set in your personal life and in your leadership of the new South Africa, offering truth and reconciliation as an alternative to violent retribution. Your powerful witness is a beacon of hope for those emerging from conflict and oppression.

—Shan Cretin

Dearest Madiba: You and the anti-Apartheid Movement have defined so much for me about how I think about supremacy and social justice, as it is true for the Civil Rights Movement. My commitment to social justice—both personally and professionally for as long as I can remember—can't be separated from you, nor the anti-Apartheid Movement, regardless of its "direct" connection. I am committed to passing along the many lessons you have taught me to my children. I will forever hold you in the light, never ever forgetting the ways you have moved us all forward, and touched me in a most personal way. Thank you for the gift of you!

—Renata Cobbs Fletcher

Mr. Mandela, I am one of the many lives that you changed. In 1994, as a white, privileged teenager from North Carolina, I participated in an international youth delegation to Cape Town as part of Peace Trees South Africa. We planted trees and painted murals with residents of the Khayelitsha township and together commemorated the first anniversary of the country’s free elections post-Apartheid. This was my first experience witnessing oppression up-close and personal with people I came to love. I heard stories of friends beaten by police, listened to white South Africans struggle with decisions they had made under Apartheid, laughed with a friend as he jokingly imagined himself as the future ANC president. I was most inspired by resistance and resilience of people my age, who fought battles I would never have to fight. Mr. Mandela, I celebrate you today for inspiring a whole world, for cultivating the seed rooted in me that is committed to working for justice and human rights for all, wherever I am.

—Lori Fernald Khamala

One of the twists of fate that life seems to enjoy bringing us is that the Apartheid System which imprisoned you also sent us Tandi Gabashi. She led us as the Program Director of the Divestment Campaign of the American Friends Service Committee’s Southern Region based here in Atlanta, Georgia. Under her leadership, the Coke Boycott was carried out that led that company to remove itself from doing business in South Africa. Thank you President Mandela for the leadership in showing the world how restorative justice can bring peace to a divided land.

—Free Polazzo

God's blessings to you.

—Joshua A. Humphries

I am proud to say I have never known apartheid because of the great work and effort you and others have done to put an end to this discrimination. I hope that I can honor your contributions to our global society in such a way that we continue to dismantle barriers and rebuild our communities with love. Thank you.

—Liz Y

Thank you Nelson Mandela. Your life serves as an inspiration.

—Derod Gregory Broady

You were an inspiration to my work with the Madison Area Committee on Southern Africa (MACSA) from 1969-1994, and to my work with Jerry Herman and Bill Sutherland at AFSC. And knowing that "A luta continua," I think of you each time I receive a mailing from Shared Interest and Africa Focus. Amandla!

—Meg Gardner Skinner

You were a great champion in the struggle for justice for all the people of South Africa and for the larger global community seeking peace, dignity, and full rights. I engaged often with issues of South Africa and the anti-Apartheid campaign in my work on the AFSC Board and especially on the Peace Education Executive Committee as well as in my role on campus at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst through the 1960s and 1970s.

When I became Director of the AFSC Washington, D.C. Office in 1983, South Africa and Apartheid were consistent, at times urgent, issues on which I focused through public advocacy, lobbying Congress and the Executive Branch (White House and State Department), hosting delegations and special visitors (e.g. Helen Suzman), and occasions for public witness—especially civil disobedience at the Embassy of South Africa. I was arrested several times (in good company) at the Embassy.

I joined with so many others in celebration and thanksgiving when you were released from prison and again when the Apartheid regime ended and a new day for full democracy in South Africa dawned.

—James H. Matlack 

Your work inspired many in my early adult life to urge our college(s) and schools to divest their holdings in the part of the South African economy that were supporting Apartheid. Some of these schools/colleges are Quaker related. You were a spiritual enabler.

Love from Peter Lane

I am humbled by your great work. Peace and blessings be with you and your family always.

—Charles Anthony Ancrum

During the summer of 1985, I marched in front of the South African Embassy in Washington, D.C., to demand your freedom and to demand an end to apartheid. There were about 3,000 of us, all unionized teachers, on that day. You remain one of my favorite persons all of these years later. And I am still fighting for peace and justice. Thank you for your work in the struggle.

—David Gilbert Oddo

I am a mad pride activist, having experienced the oppression of being labeled mentally ill. The things you have done help inspire me to know that change can happen. Your influence covers a broad scope and has helped to liberate us in spirit too which is important.

Lots of love, Nancy Pontius  

Nkosi Tata Madiba. Thank you for what you have done for South Africa, as well as for me as a South African. Peace, happiness and blessings to all you have touched.

—Tatum Davis

You were an inspiration to me and the world, showing us the way to confront violence and hate with compassion, forgiveness and love. Thank you.

—Gracia Valliabt

You were an inspiration to others throughout your long life. You are a blessing.

—Doris Wison

You were a wonderful human being. I was honored to meet you in person, listen to you speak and shake your hand when you spoke to the business community at the World Trade Center in NYC right after you became the President of South Africa. Thank you for your courage and wisdom. Sincerely,

—Litsa Binder, Sparta, NJ USA

There aren't words to say how grateful I am that you lived on this Earth with us, and taught us so much. Thank you.

-Ginger Child

I sometimes give my intermediate Latin students a passage from Long Walk to Freedom about two paragraphs long as a translation exercise. I remind them that you, like most lawyers of your generation, would have learned at least the rudiments of the language, but few have put that education to the service of humanity in such an extraordinary way.

— Kristin Lord, Dept. of Archaeology and Classical Studies, Wilfrid Laurier University

I celebrate your presence on the planet. Thank you for all you have given.

—Aurelia Holliman

Thanking and blessing you for your faithfulness to truth.

—Judy Brutz

My late brother, David McMurran, was active in anti-apartheid work in Vancouver, and met you on one occasion. He shared with me his passion for the cause, and his admiration for your work. You continue to inspire so many of us with your vision, your deeply-rooted hope for a better future for humanity, and your refusal to be deterred by bitterness or self-pity. Bless you, Mr. Mandela, we Quakers hold you in the Light. 

—Fiona McMurran

I am writing from Cite Soleil, the biggest slum in Haiti. Saying thank you to you is like saying thank you to freedom. Because you are a great symbol of freedom. I am working to mobilize the people in my ghetto in a social movement so they can take responsibility for their lives and free themselves from violence and manipulation. I am taking part in the movement to find a path to freedom in my community. Today is already the first step, and I am happy. Again thank you my hero!

—Louino, Robillard

Dear Nelson Mandela, Even when I was a child, you were an example of how people improve the world. Thank you for your actions and for enriching my mind.

—Dorothy T. Moore

Thank you for the inspiration!

—Rebecca Coolidge

You were an amazing person and an inspiration to us all. I am hoping that the world can continue to work towards more freedom and justice for everyone, based on your example.

Thank you, Mary Willging 

Bless you my fellow human may we all rise to your standard.

—Houston A. Seals

My President, My Hero, Mr. Mandela, I was so blessed to have met you briefly in Oakland in 1990 when you stepped off the plane on your first world tour. Our family moved to the U.S. in 1985 from Johannesburg. When I met you, I was in high school and my family was involved in the anti-apartheid movement in the SF Bay Area with the Farisani family. We were also in the choir at the coliseum where you reached over and shook my father Rev Sam Moonsamy's hand. At the airport, I brought you flowers and you kissed me on both my cheeks. I did not want to wash my face after that :) I will always remember this day. I will never forget the sacrifice you made for us South Africans, and for inspiring so many in the world. I can never thank you enough for your faithfulness to us, and to God. We love you and will never ever forget. You are in our hearts and we will tell generations about you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. We love you!!!!

—Noelene Moonsamy

Bless you!

—Gwynn Schroeder

Thank you for sharing the light that your life represents.

—Erika McCroskey 

You were an inspiration in my life and for everyone who witnessed your life. I saw you in NYC (from a distance) when you came here for the special parade. Thank you.

—Lynda Crawford

When you were first released from prison I attended the rally in Pretoria where you spoke of a "tidal wave of democracy." A few days later I was arrested at a demonstration and was proud to be imprisoned with some of your colleagues in the John Voorster jail in Johannesburg. Crowded into a single cell with over fifty other men I sensed how unstoppable that tidal wave was when the men sang protest songs and danced the toi-toi all night long. I never felt the power of your dream of freedom more strongly than in that cell. Your spirit was with us. Thank you.  

—Ron Jenkins, professor, Wesleyan University