The significance of Nelson Mandela in today’s world

Illustration by Kong Thao

By: Sudarshan Kapoor

All over the globe, one can find memorials in honor of Nelson Mandela, an iconic leader who is regarded as an international hero.

There are statues, buildings, schools, universities and even flowers that bear his name. The exhaustive list of memorials amazes me because it shows the extent of Mandela’s influence on people and nations across the globe.

And now, there are plans underway to install a memorial in honor of Mandela at Fresno State.

Hopefully, within a year or so, there will be an addition to the Peace Garden where Mandela will be honored alongside great luminaries and visionaries like Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar E. Chavez and Jane Addams, who are memorialized for their unique contribution to peace, nonviolence, human rights and social justice.

Our community will be blessed the day when the Mandela monument is installed in the Peace Garden. Here are my reflections about this great man of history and humanity:

Mandela spent 27 years in prison because of his fight against apartheid, the system of oppression maintained by the violent white racist regime in South Africa.

He demolished the apartheid system without any bloodshed and brought real democracy to South Africa. He was responsible for creating a rainbow nation in South Africa where people of all shades and colors, castes and creeds, can live harmoniously next to each other. For this, he came to be considered the “George Washington of South Africa” as the father and architect of a new nation.

His life is an extraordinary example of peace, nonviolence and forgiveness. He taught us that we have a choice of love over hate, forgiveness over bitterness and peace over anger.

“It is possible to forgive one’s enemies,” he said.

Mandela broke bread with his archrivals and champions of apartheid – Betsie Verwoerd, the wife of former Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd of South Africa (considered the architect of apartheid) and Percy Yutar, the attorney general who recommended Mandela’s death sentence.

He had no bitterness or hatred toward those who tortured and imprisoned him. He was hailed as a global symbol of reconciliation. He was a master in intergroup communication and negotiation which led to his release, the end of apartheid and the dawn of democracy in South Africa.

He was the first black president democratically elected in South Africa and became a revered statesman. He was the ultimate public servant and restored trust and confidence among people toward government as an institution to serve the people.

He instituted the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” led by Bishop Desmond Tutu. The commission has become a model for conflict resolution and reconciliation globally.

He was a peacemaker and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994. He paid high tributes to King for his works and methods during his speech.

Mandela drew inspiration from the political struggles of Gandhi. He referred to Gandhi as his “role model” as he was deeply inspired by Gandhi’s philosophy of Satya (Truth) and Ahimsa (Nonviolence). He claimed that he owed his success to Gandhi.

A working committee consisting of students, administrators, educators and community leaders was established in October 2016 with a view to developing a framework, a timeline and funding goals for the memorial project. The committee, co-chaired by Fresno State President Dr. Joseph Castro and Dr. Sudarshan Kapoor, professor emeritus and founder of the Peace Garden, has met periodically.

Recently, Castro created a committee to develop fundraising strategies – the committee is co-chaired by Ashley Swearengin, former mayor of Fresno, and Oliver Baines, Fresno City Council member. The goal of the committee is to help raise $150,000.

We are very hopeful that the project will be completed in a timely manner and the addition of a monument in honor of Mandela will be in place in the Peace Garden.

Mandela was a “Giant of History” and remains a source of inspiration to many, including myself, because of his courage, commitment and compassion.

A memorial to honor Mandela’s life and legacy in our Peace Garden at Fresno State will be a constant reminder to all of us and future generations to carry on the values and causes that he stood for. It will be a landmark achievement with our united efforts.  

Let us be peacemakers like Mandela. Let all of us in the progressive and peace community support this monument by contributing generously.

To make a tax-deductible gift to the Nelson Mandela tribute fund, visit

Dr. Sudarshan Kapoor is a professor emeritus of peace studies at Fresno State.

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