Published: 06 December 2013

Nelson Mandela: The man who shook the tree

Prof. Marie Breen-Smyth reflects on Nelson Mandela's extraordinary life and continuing influence.

Following the sad news of Nelson Mandela's death, Professor Marie Breen-Smyth from the School of Politics has written a tribute to the South African elder statesman for The Conversation website.

"Nelson Mandela’s African name – Rolihlahla – means the one who shakes the tree, the one who unsettles the status quo," writes Professor Breen-Smyth.

"When I was a student living amid the political violence of Northern Ireland in the early 1970s, my generation identified strongly with civil rights struggles across the world. The oppression of black South Africa was particularly egregious to us.

"Now that he is gone and many of us are left without the political father that he was, we must emulate that sense of justice, that courage to fight for that justice, while understanding, as he did, that violence is the truly desperate last resort, not ever the preferred course of action.

"That expansive generosity of spirit that does not bear grudges and that embraces those who harm us makes us more, not less secure, stronger, not weaker. It endows us with the moral qualification that Madiba embodied, to shake the tree when it is the right thing to do. May his spirit continue to watch over Mother Africa."


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