Editorial - Lessons from a true world leader

So much has been written and said about former South African leader, the late Nelson Mandela, in recent days following his death.

He has been lauded and hailed throughout the world as a visionary leader who set an example of courage, determination, reconciliation and peace to people everywhere.

Here in Ireland, we can, perhaps more than any country outside of his own continent of Africa, claim to have had a special relationship with the statesman.

Just like Mr Mandela’s life, that relationship has changed over the years, largely depending on one’s political views.

Republicans hailed him as a freedom fighter, nationalists praised his commitment to democracy, and many unionists, despite labelling him as a ‘terrorist’ in the past, came to admire his drive for reconciliation.

All traditions and political persuasions found something to admire about the former president.

He was praised and pilloried through the years but ultimately his unwavering dedication to justice and his people, regardless of colour or allegiance, inspired respect across the globe.

In that lies Mr Mandela’s greatest strength as a leader and the best lessons for politicians here.

The spirit of reconciliation espoused by the former ANC leader, often in the face of criticism from even his own supporters, is something yet to be grasped by all political leaders in the North. He refused to be a prisoner of the past.

In post apartheid South Africa reconciliation was used as a nation builder; here it is all too often regarded as a weakness or a one-sided political weapon.

Nelson Mandela may not have achieved all of his goals but his determination to pursue all avenues towards peace with justice, even unpopular and uncomfortable ones, is an example that holds lessons for this place.