Appellate Advocacy Blog

Editor: Tessa L. Dysart
The University of Arizona
James E. Rogers College of Law

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Nelson Mandela, South Africa's Advocate

Nelson Mandela, a legendary advocate, died today at age 95.

So much could be said about him and so many of his great accomplishments and deeds could be recounted here. I'm certain they will be elsewhere, and I'm certain there will be those who will take time to remind us of his failings, too. It is tempting to engage in that biographical recollection and examination, but others will do it better. It is tempting to share my perceptions of Nelson Mandela through the years, and what he meant to me as a young man studying history, politics, and the world, in the 1990s, but that seems too personal, too narcissistic. Perhaps it is best if I merely share a few of the man's own words.

In his address on receiving the Gandhi Peace Prize, he offered this powerful lament:

"It demeans all of us as human beings that here at the beginning of the third millennium we are still locked in so much strife and conflict all over the globe. What has become of our rationality, our ability to think? We have used our reason to make great advances in science and technology, though often using those for warfare and plunder. We have placed people on the moon and in space; we have split the atom and transplanted organs; we are cloning life and manipulating nature. Yet we have failed to sit down as rational beings and eliminate conflict, war and consequent suffering of innocent millions, mostly women, children and the aged."

I fear we will never acheive these goals, and I fear that they are, in truth, beyond our power. But Nelson Mandela believed otherwise. He believed in our rationality, in our compassion, and in our ability to transform the world. Of course, then, he embodied these things. We could each (and all) do no better than to believe as he did and work to make his vision a reality.

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