Nelson Mandela did what very few humans are capable of doing: he forgave his racist persecutors, and in doing so built a nation.

In 1971, along with other idealistic Australians, I protested against the Springbok rugby union team's tour of Australia. I did this because the all-white team excluded black Africans and represented an increasingly isolated and boycotted apartheid government in South Africa.

I was arrested for my trouble and became a plaything in the Bjelke-Petersen Government's crude law and order politics which saw the National-Liberal government dominate Queensland politics throughout the 1970s and beyond.

With Mandela having reached the end of his amazing life, it is worth remembering the almost 30 years he spent in a small prison cell on an island off Cape Town, fighting racism and oppression with a message of forgiveness and hope. I visited Robben Island in 2006 and saw his cell and was staggered by its tiny size. I marvelled at Mandela's ability to survive.

He knew the hatred had to end and as president he pulled all South Africans together into a nation which offered opportunity for everyone, regardless of colour. Of course South Africa has its challenges but Mandela gave his country the best possible beginning.

Mandela was more than just a man; he represents the best in humanity and the belief that we can be better regardless of our sordid past. He will go down in history alongside Gandhi as an inspiration which we mere mortals can only aspire to follow.

To all those old anti-apartheid protesters from around the world: it is worth noting that our voices were eventually heard and we ended up supporting one of the greatest human beings of our generation.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.