Nelson Mandela’s Legacy: DNA’s Derrick N. Ashong Reacts

DNA host Derrick N. Ashong called in to tonight’s episode of America to share his thoughts on the passing of Nelson Mandela. Born in Ghana, Ashong spoke about Mandela’s significance in Africa. Watch the video above to hear what he had to say.

Here is a partial transcript of his words.

I think it’s tragic for the whole world, definitely tragic for the whole African continent. There are so many different peoples within Africa. But one of the things I think is a unifying factor is the respect that people have for the sacrifices that Nelson Mandela made and the leadership that he showed in ushering South Africa into its present-day and such a promising future.

So I know that there are heavy hearts all around. But there’s a lot of pride and reflecting on what he is and what he is to all of us.

However I think saying South Africa is “without a moral center,” as the New York Times stated, is too strong of a statement. You have to remember, the entire anti-apartheid movement was made up of so many people, and many of those people died during the movement.

The loss of Mandela, while a huge blow, is still part of a broader narrative, the broader evolution of a nation coming to find its own self, its own moral core, its values. He’s one of the people who helped set things straight.

So what I would say is that we should look to see if South Africans can take the lessons and the legacy that he left, and continue to build on it, as they built on the legacy of so many of the others in the movement against apartheid.

Additionally, a lot of people don’t think about the complexity of the man himself. You think of Nelson Mandela now as this wonderful arbiter of peace. But remember, he was on the U.S. terrorist watch list until only a couple of years ago.

That wasn’t because he was a terrorist, but it’s because the U.S. did not agree with his views, necessarily. In the early 1980s, the U.S. was very slow to divest from Africa and to embrace the cause of the African National Congress, or of black South Africans seeking equality.

Part of what we, as a nation, need to do is remember that, as we have our dealings around the world, we should make sure that we don’t allow our perceived short-term interests as a nation get in front of our long-term values. If you were to say to someone today that the United States considered Nelson Mandela a terrorist, it’s an embarrassment. But the reality is that’s what happened.

One of the most beautiful and profound things that we can learn from him is that he went from learning how and when to fight, to knowing how and when to forgive. The battle cannot last forever, and we must come together.

I hope people look at him for all of his nuance, not as an icon, but as a real human being who overcame even his own feelings and had his own evolution, in order to set the example that we all see today.