Office wallsHanging on the wall of my very messy office are two portraits, one of Abraham Lincoln, and the other of Nelson Mandela. This is because they both showed that even the most entrenched and hateful systems based on discrimination, violence and racism could be overcome with courage, determination and decency.

Mandela rightly pointed out that “Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.” But, unfortunately poverty cannot be overcome until slavery and apartheid have been eradicated: Mandela dealt with apartheid in South Africa, but it endures against Dalits and minorities in India and other parts of South Asia, and slavery endures across the world.

We need people at the top to draw inspiration from Mandela to take political action to eradicate slavery. Unfortunately, many politicians pay lip service to his achievements but lack the guts to emulate them, preferring bland platitudes to effective action on issues like slavery.

Still, even when things seem bleakest and the brutality of contemporary slavery practices most intractable I sometimes reflect on the odds which Mandela overcame in ending apartheid and re-forging a new nation in South Africa. We also must endure in the struggle and trust that decency and courage will ultimately triumph over the greed and racism that keeps 21 million people enslaved across the world.

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