Political revolutions are time of violence, struggle and inflamed passions. Successful revolutions do more than overthrow a repressive government or system. They replace the old regime with something better. These revolutions are rare. Unsuccessful ones simply replace one despot with another.
Great revolutions need great leaders. The American Revolution had many great leaders, none greater than George Washington, who could have made himself the king of the colonies, if he had wanted to. Instead, he led this country to a government that rests on the Constitution and the will of the people.
Nelson Mandela led the struggle in South Africa against the apartheid system of government that repressed its black citizens. It was often a violent struggle, and Mandela was put in prison for his actions, serving 27 years before international outrage forced the change in South Africa's policies. Released from prison, he was elected the country's president in the first free elections.
It could have been time for retribution, for revenge, for prosecution for the atrocities committed under apartheid. But Mandela made it a time of reconciliation. A Truth and Reconciliation commission was created, allowing people to state their grievances, and human rights violators to confess their actions, avoiding prosecution and punishment.
Mandela died on Thursday, respected around the world, beloved in his own country, an icon of freedom and decency.
South Africa is far from a utopia. It suffers from vast economic disparity between blacks and whites, from a high crime rate, and from leadership that seems ineffective. But it is a country that has hope for better days, and that hope is there because of Nelson Mandela.
He was an example for leaders throughout the world.