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Global Activists Celebrate Mandela's Gift to Justice Movements
The anti-apartheid fight, and the courage of its most prominent leader, hold key lessons for the world's climate justice movement
In what seems a possibly unprecedented outpouring of global mourning over the death of South African anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela, many of the world's leading environmenal, human rights, and social justice activists are forgoing sadness in order to issue thanks to the man known affectionately by many as "Madiba."
To honor him for helping break the chains of racial injustice in a divided nation, the leaders of a new generation fighting against oppression are celebrating Mandela's commitment to justice and his endless courage as the legacy that will never be forgotten.
As Canadian author and activist Naomi Klein tweeted late Thursday:
#Mandela taught my generation that winning was possible. The greatest gift.— Naomi Klein (@NaomiAKlein) December 6, 2013
And fellow South African Kumi Naidoo, who started as a young anti-apartheid activist himself and now leads the international environmental group Greenpeace, wrote in response to the news of Madiba's death:
Madiba once said that the struggle for justice is not a popularity contest. The truth is not always popular, and his example helped me and thousands of others become more resilient. Madiba believed that injustice will carry on unless decent men and women say, "enough is enough and no more."
To say he lived a life of significance barely does it justice, and it is not over -- he leaves a profound legacy of hope in a world still wracked by injustice and inequity. His inspiration will live on in my heart and in the hearts' of people everywhere.
Bobby Peek, from Friends of the Earth-South Africa, reflects on the deep connection between the work of Mandela and the anti-apartheid movement and the now global fight for environmental justice:
Mandela, unlike any other statesperson in South Africa since, spent much time trying to understand the emerging environmental justice movement in the 1990s that brought together black and white, the rural poor and urban wealthy, the communities and the workers, the gender activists and the churches. In 1993, Mandela’s hospital visit to the poisoned workers from Thor Chemicals, (who were dying from mercury poisoning because the former apartheid state had allowed for the import of toxic waste and failing recycling technology from Europe), made the worker struggle an environmental justice struggle.
The environmental justice movement has now grown globally to fight for climate and energy justice and to seek political solutions to the planetary emergency we are facing because of corporate power and greed that impacts upon communities and workers. [...]
Madiba was not a saint, he was only human who made mistakes and learnt from them. He made mistakes and grew stronger from those mistakes. He was human like all of us. He was prepared to fight for a dignity that must be afforded to all. He was prepared to suffer and fight, like the very many who did and died nameless. He believed in himself being one of those that had to struggle, not one of those who by their struggle deserved a higher position.
May we never have to compromise our fight for a true and just world, for that is the compromise that Madiba would not want us to make. He would want us to continue to speak truth to power, as he always did. And may we honour his memory by holding his values and passion for justice.
Rest in peace Tata Madiba …
Peter Bossard, who works to protect the world's threatened waterways at Rivers International, thanked Mandela for putting his weight behind the effort to protect Africa and the world from the threat of industrial dams:
Even if it is only a tiny part of his legacy, I am grateful for the spotlight that Nelson Mandela put on rivers and dams...
The freedom fighter has passed away, but his life continues to be a monument to human strength and conviction. Rest in peace, Madiba.
Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., director of the Hip Hop Caucus in the U.S. and a leader in the fight against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline and student fossil fuel divestment movement, tweeted:
“Let us stand together to make of our world a sustainable source for our future as humanity on this planet” -#NelsonMandela— Rev Yearwood (@RevYearwood) December 5, 2013
"It always seems impossible until its done." Nelson Mandela - RIP President Mandela...— Rev Yearwood (@RevYearwood) December 5, 2013
And Duncan Meisel, an organizer with 350.org, a leader in the international climate justice movement and the key group behind the U.S. divestment campaign, sent out this note on the nature of "radicalism" and Mandela's well-known gestures of forgiveness:
Interesting to see radicals in my timeline playing down Mandela's role as reconciler, as if unity and forgiveness weren't radical notions.— Duncan Meisel (@duncanwrites) December 6, 2013