In 2006, while living in Washington, D.C., I was fortunate to travel to South Africa with a delegation of city leaders. I had read about Nelson Mandela for many years and his life struggle to free the people of South Africa from apartheid. But it wasn’t until my visit to the country that I truly appreciated Mandela and his struggle for human rights.
On our tour of South Africa, we visited Pretoria, Cape Town and Durban. During a stop in Soweto, a township southwest of Johannesburg where violent apartheid protests occurred, we visited the modest brick home where Mandela once lived with his family. Now a museum, the walls are lined with a collection of honorary doctorates, an assortment of clothing, memorabilia and paintings of the South African leader.
Our last stop before leaving Cape Town was Robben Island, the prison where Mandala served 18 of his 27 years in captivity. Inside the tiny cell is a small eye-level window, a sleeping mat, bucket and table. It is eerie, awe-inspiring and humbling all at the same time. More important, it is a constant reminder of the greatest life lessons Mandela taught us – forgiveness – a moral example he set for the world.