Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Nelson Mandela - NJ Law Journal Editorial Board

Nelson Mandela  New Jersey Law Journal Editorial Board
copyright 2013 ALM Media, LLC
We join the world in mourning the death of Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa, one of the great statesmen of our time and a unique and potent symbol and human icon for all who love freedom and democracy.Mandela's accomplishments during his lifetime are well-known and need not be recounted at length. As a lawyers' newspaper, however, we would be remiss in failing to note his skill and competence as a member of our profession—assets he repeatedly called upon as he changed the course of history.
Mandela began his legal career in a segregated South Africa and it was his exploits as a trial lawyer, among other things, that drew the wrath of the apartheid state. He was repeatedly arrested for seditious activity and, in 1956, tried for treason. He was acquitted and tried again in 1962 for sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government. He was convicted on those charges and sentenced to life in prison. The 27 years he spent incarcerated, most of it at hard labor in the infamous Robben Island prison, have become a testament to the selflessness and dedication required of those who love liberty, freedom of expression and conscience and uncompromising notions of human equality.
Perhaps his most important words were uttered during his closing statement at the end of his 1962 trial: "During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to the struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."
Mandela's emergence from prison to lead the South African people as their first democratically elected president is without doubt one of the most amazing and potent ironies of history. It is also a powerful lesson for those in some governments in the world who still believe they can stifle dissent, deny liberty and compel inequality through tyranny and arbitrary denial of due process. We as lawyers know that ultimately this should not and cannot be so. We are very proud that Mandela was one of us. Our profession was greatly enhanced by his membership, and he will be missed.

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