The world mourned the loss of a great man on December 5, 2013. At the age of 95, lifelong South African civil rights activist Nelson Mandela died at his home in Johannesburg. Joanna Andrews looks at the legacy of the hero of the apartheid struggle who spent 27 years in jail and went on to become South Africa’s first democratically elected president.
Nelson Mandela once said, “Death is something inevitable. When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort and that is, therefore, why I will sleep for the eternity."
Those words mean even more now that this great man has gone. It is easy to see why so many people paid their respects to Mandela. Tens of thousands of South Africans joined many world leaders who bid farewell to this revered peacemaker at a national memorial service in Johannesburg in mid December. His body was laid in state and the government announced a week of public grieving. The man, affectionately called Madiba, was eventually buried in his home village of Qunu in Eastern Cape province.
On hearing of his death Obama lead the tributes, saying Mandela was a leader who “achieved more than any man can ever hope to achieve.” World leaders from US President Barack Obama, Britian’s Prime Minister David Cameron and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon lauded the late “giant of history” at the memorial service.
In his eulogy Obama told the crowd, “His struggle was your struggle. His triumph was your triumph. Your dignity and hope found expression in his life, and your freedom, your democracy is his cherished legacy… The world thanks you for sharing Nelson Mandela with us.”
“We will never see the likes of Nelson Mandela again,” Obama said. “But let me say to the young people of Africa, and young people around the world — you can make his life’s work your own.”
Obama was joined by former Presidents George W Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter and other world leaders. Rock singer Bono, actress Charlize Theron and supermodel Naomi Campbell joined the many dignitaries to honour the man who led his nation to democracy after decades of white minority-rule.
A Life Less Ordinary
Nelson Mandela was born on July 18, 1918, in Mveso, Transkei, South Africa. He became actively involved in the anti-apartheid movement in his 20’s. He joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1942, and for 20 years, he directed a peaceful campaign of non-violent defiance against the South African government and its racist policies.
In 1956, Mandela and 150 others were arrested and charged with treason for their political advocacy, although they were eventually acquitted. Meanwhile, the ANC was being challenged by Africanists, a new breed of black activists who believed that the pacifist method of the ANC was ineffective. They soon broke away to form the Pan- Africanist Congress, which negatively affected the ANC.
In 1961 Mandela began to realise that armed struggle was the only way to achieve change. He co-founded 'Umkhonto we Sizwe' - an armed offshoot of the ANC dedicated to sabotage and guerilla war tactics to end apartheid.
In 1962 Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labour. He was incarcerated on Robben Island where he spent 18 of his 27 years in prison. Life there was primitive and there was limited contact with the outside world. In his autobiography ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ he wrote, “We were awakened at 5.30 by the night warder, who clanged a brass bell at the head of our corridor… We had no running water in our cells and instead of toilets had iron sanitary buckets known as ballies.”
In notes smuggled from the prison, Mandela wrote, “Any man or institution that tries to rob me of my dignity will lose because I will not part with it at any price or under any pressure.”
During his time in prison he contracted tuberculosis and, as a black political prisoner, received the lowest level of treatment from prison workers. However, while incarcerated, Mandela was able to earn a Bachelor of Law degree through a University of London correspondence program.
By mid-1970 the question of Mandela’s release became ‘a fashionable liberal cause’. By the early 80s the ‘Free Nelson Mandela Campaign’ became international. But it took a further decade before his release became a reality.
In 1985 President P.W. Botha offered Mandela his freedom provided that he renounced violence. Mandela responded urging that Botha first abandon the violence of apartheid. In his refusal letter Mandela said, “Only free men can negotiate.” It wasn't until Botha suffered a stroke and was replaced by F.W. de Klerk that Mandela's release was finally announced - on February 11, 1990. Hours later he vowed to end apartheid once and for all saying, “Today, the majority of South Africans, black and white, recognise that apartheid has no future. It has to be ended by our decisive mass action. We have waited too long for our freedom.”
He continued to negotiate with President F.W. de Klerk toward the country's first multiracial elections. White South Africans were willing to share power, but many black South Africans wanted a complete transfer of power. The negotiations were often strained and sparked violent eruptions.
In 1993, Mandela and de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize "for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa." One year later Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa's first black president. He maintained the leadership until 1999 and is credited for steering South Africa through a new post-apartheid era.
The world has lost a great visionary who sacrificed so much for freedom. Nelson Mandela leaves a legacy as one of the most inspirational leaders of all time who taught the true meaning of forgiveness and reconciliation. He brought about irreversible social and economic change. As Obama put it, he was “the last great liberator of the 20th Century.”