Nelson Mandela: More than a leader, he’s a legend
By Jeffrey L. Boney
Special to the NNPA from the Houston Forward Times
The world has lost one of the most recognizable and transformational global leaders in history. Nelson Mandela, a world leader and icon, died on Dec. 5, 2013, at his home in the Johannesburg suburb of Houghton at the age of 95. Mandela died after a long battle with a lung infection that kept him in and out of the hospital for some time.
Mandela, who had been the face of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa for decades, rose from political prisoner to become South Africa’s first Black president and instantly became a symbol of racial reconciliation and forgiveness for the entire world.
From birth to bold leader
Mandela was born on July 18, 1918, in Mvezo, Transkei, South Africa. Mandela, whose real name is Rolihlahla Dalibhunga Mandelain, was given the name Nelson by a school teacher at the Wesleyan mission school he first attended. He was often referred to as “Madiba,” which is his traditional clan name.
Mandela was a well-educated man who saw education as one of the key strategies winning the struggle against apartheid. He completed his Bachelor of Arts studies at the University of South Africa and then went on to study law at the University of Witswatersrand. He eventually met a gentleman named Walter Sisulu who helped him get a job at the law firm of Witkin, Sidelsky and Eidelman. In 1944, Mandela joined the African National Congress (ANC) as a law student, and helped found the ANC Youth League. In 1951, Mandela became the president of the ANC Youth League and soon opened the first Black legal practice in South Africa, with his friend Oliver Tambo, to give affordable and often free advice to Black people who could not afford it in 1952.
Mandela eventually became the leader of the ANC Campaign for the Defiance of Unjust Laws, a program of nonviolent mass resistance, and in July 1952 he was charged with violating the Suppression of Communism Act. The Suppression of Communism Act of 1950 was legislation created by the national government of South Africa, which facilitated the government takedown of organizations such as the ANC and those that advocated for Black rights and against apartheid. This act forced individuals and groups like the ANC to go underground with their activism; this included leaders of the movement like Mandela.
Although Mandela was a champion for education and life-long learning, he refused to accept the premise that education had anything to do with a person’s ability to vote or think. This mode of thinking played a major part in shaping his focus towards the struggle and fight against apartheid.
Fight against apartheid
Upon joining the ANC, Mandela and other ANC leaders aggressively campaigned against the racially-oppressive legal tool of apartheid. The campaign, which in the beginning used non-violent practices, adopted the use of armed defense. In 1960, Mandela became the commander of the ANC’s armed wing.
Apartheid was a system of racial segregation in South Africa enforced through legislation by the National Party, the ruling party from 1948 to 1994, under which the rights of Black citizens were suppressed and the white minority ruling party was maintained. The South African government segregated education, medical care, beaches and other public services, providing Black people with inferior services and inadequate treatment as compared to the white citizens of the country.
Because of his advocacy and outspoken position against apartheid, Mandela and members of the ANC became “enemies of the state” to the point that it even became forbidden to quote him or publish his photo. Mandela and other ANC leaders, however, were able to smuggle out their messages of guidance to their followers of the anti-apartheid movement.
Jailed for a purpose
This pursuit for justice was the catalyst for Mandela’s many run-ins with the South African government and law enforcement. In December 1956, Mandela was among 156 resistance leaders who were arrested and charged with high treason. Mandela and all co-defendants were found not guilty of those treason charges on March 29, 1961.
On Aug. 5, 1962, Mandela was arrested on charges of inciting workers to strike and with leaving the country without valid travel documents. After representing himself at trial, he was sentenced on Nov. 7, 1962, to five years hard labor in prison.
During the Rivonia Trial, June 12, 1964, Mandela was sentenced to a life sentence in prison after being convicted of four counts of sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the state. Ten leaders of the ANC were charged and eight people, including Mandela were convicted.
The four counts included charges of:
n recruiting persons for training in the preparation and use of explosives and guerrilla warfare for the purpose of violent revolution and committing acts of sabotage;
n conspiring to commit the aforementioned acts and to aid foreign military units when they invaded the Republic;
n acting in ways to further the objects of communism; and
n soliciting and receiving money for these purposes from sympathizers outside South Africa.
Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years, serving 18 years of his sentence on Robben Island.
Released from captivity
On July 5, 1989, Mandela met with President P.W. Botha, who was the prime minister of South Africa from 1978 to 1984 and the first executive state president from 1984 to 1989. Botha was an outspoken opponent of Blacks having majority rule in his country. Botha resigned as the head of his party in February 1989 after suffering a stroke and on Aug. 15, 1989, was coerced to leave the presidency as well.
Soon after resigning, F.W. de Klerk replaced Botha as president and immediately began steps toward dismantling apartheid and moving South Africa away from strict racial segregation. On Dec. 13, 1989, both Mandela and de Klerk met for the first time and after serious conversation, Mandela was released from prison on Feb. 11, 1990. Upon ordering Mandela’s release, President de Klerk called him a “unifier” and said that he had “a remarkable lack of bitterness.”
After his release from prison Mandela said, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
He was true to his word.
Upon his release in 1990, Mandela embarked on a world tour, visiting British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher; the United States Congress; and President George H.W. Bush.
In July 1991, Mandela was elected president of the ANC, and in 1993 both he and de Klerk shared the honors as recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Prisoner to president
One of the most momentous days in the history of the world took place on April 29, 1994, when the man who fought so long to eradicate apartheid and a system of injustice, was elected the first Black president of the Republic of South Africa in the first open election in the country’s history.
Mandela stated in his acceptance speech that he only planned to serve one term; a promise that he kept. During his presidency, from 1994 until June 1999, Mandela used the nation of South Africa’s deep appreciation for sports, particularly soccer, as a major tool to promote reconciliation between Blacks and whites, encouraging Black South Africans to support the once-hated national rugby team.
In the 2009 movie “Invictus,” Mandela was played by actor Morgan Freeman. The film shows how Mandela used the 1995 Rugby World Cup as an opportunity to allow his sense of humor and charisma to offset any hatred or bitterness Black Africans had because of the cruel and harsh treatment they endured.
In addition to his continued fight for the civil rights of Black South Africans, he was also responsible for the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), a court-like restorative justice arm of Mandela’s democratically-elected government and a new constitution, which he signed into law in 1996, establishing a central government based on majority rule that would guarantee the rights of minorities. In 1994, he established the Reconstruction and Development Plan through which the South African government funded the creation of jobs, housing and basic healthcare.
After leaving office, Mandela became South Africa’s highest-profile ambassador, campaigning against the disease of HIV/AIDS. In November 2003, he participated in an AIDS awareness event named the “46664 Concert,” which was named after Mandela’s prisoner number. The event was held at Green Point stadium in Cape Town, South Africa and drew over 30,000 fans. It featured a speech from Mandela and performances by major celebrities such as Bono, Peter Gabriel and Beyonce. On Jan. 7, 2005, Mandela shared with the world that his own son, Makgatho, had died of AIDS and that the disease should be given more attention and publicity, so that people would get involved and stop viewing the disease as something that couldn’t affect them.
Mandela was a harsh critic of the Iraq War and sharply criticized President George W. Bush’s stance on Iraq, declaring that Bush had no foresight and couldn’t think properly. He was also heavily involved in peace negotiations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and other countries in Africa and abroad.
Mandela had rarely been seen in public since officially retiring in 2004. He made his last public appearance in 2010, at the soccer World Cup in South Africa. Mandela was extremely active in helping to secure South Africa’s right to host the 2010 soccer World Cup.
Gone but never forgotten
Prior to his death, Mandela suffered from complications from a lung infection that plagued him since being admitted to the hospital in December 2012. In June 2013, Mandela was admitted to the hospital again with the recurring lung infection and went from being listed in serious but stable condition to critical condition. Mandela was discharged from the hospital on Aug. 31, 2013 to continue his recovery at home.
His death, although known to be forthcoming by many, has still been very difficult to accept for many, considering how beloved and revered Mandela had become.
President Jacob Zuma announced the news of Mandela’s passing on South African national TV and said that he was at peace.
“Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father,” said President Zuma. „Although we knew that this day would come, nothing can diminish our sense of a profound and enduring loss. What made Nelson Mandela great was precisely what made him human. We saw in him what we seek in ourselves.”
Zuma stated Mandela would receive a full state funeral, and that flags would be flown at half-mast. Crowds gathered outside the home where Mandela died, some flying South African flags and wearing the shirts of the governing ANC.
Here in the U.S., President Barack Obama, America’s first Black president, also ordered flags flown at half-mast to honor the fallen leader and stated that Mandela achieved more than could be expected of any man.
“He no longer belongs to us; he belongs to the ages,” said President Obama. “We’ve lost one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth.”
The national memorial service held for Mandela was like a normal gathering of the United Nations General Assembly, as it was held at the 95,000-seat FNB soccer stadium in Johannesburg Dec. 10 — Human Rights Day — and included leaders and dignitaries from all over the world.
Nearly 100 heads of state and their representatives were on hand at Mandela’s farewell service and the U.S. delegation, led by President Obama, included three of his predecessors; Jimmy Carter; George W. Bush; and Bill Clinton; along with First Lady Michelle Obama and former First Lady and U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton.
Obama is one of just six world leaders who were invited to speak at the service. The others were Cuban leader Raul Castro; the presidents of Brazil, Namibia and India; and the Chinese vice-president. South African President Zuma gave the keynote address and was booed by the people who consider him to be nothing like Mandela.
Mandela’s body lay in state at the Union Buildings, the seat of government in Pretoria, from Dec. 11 until Dec. 14. His funeral and burial were held in Qunu on Dec. 15.