Nelson Mandela- The man who fought with peace, for peace
International Nelson Mandela Day…
By: M Ahmad
A strong-willed man wakes up to the now familiar smell of his jail cell. As his feet touch the cold cement, he realizes he may be here for the rest of his life, but he reassures himself, “It always seems impossible until it’s done”. Who would think that this aged, grey haired man, jailed for twenty seven years, would one day walk free and unite the country of South Africa!
Nelson Mandela was born on July 18, 1918 in a town called Umtata in the Transkei area of South Africa. He grew up as any other young, South African black boy in an environment of poverty and oppression. As a young man he witnessed the White South African government imposing more and more restrictions on an already down trodden, uneducated, black majority. During his years at the University College of Fort Hare and the University of South Africa, where he studied law, he became even more aware of the atrocities and injustices committed in the name of apartheid.
In 1944, Mandela joined the National African Congress (ANC) and became an outspoken, activist against the laws of apartheid. “Dangers and difficulties have not deterred us in the past, they will not frighten us now. Mandela’s charismatic speeches triggered an investigation by the ruling National Party Government, and in 1962 they arrested and charged Mandela with treason. The judge found him guilty, and sentenced him to life in prison. The first eighteen years of his incarceration he spent in Robben Island Prison, often in solitary confinement.
Up until his release on February 11, 1990, he was held in Pollsmoor Prison. After his release, Mandela worked tirelessly towards a peaceful, democratic South Africa. He received The Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, and on April 27, 1994, South Africa held its first free election. The people elected Mandela as president. Mandela’s strong, inimitable spirit allowed him to not only survive incredible hardships, but transformed him into an international symbol of peace and reconciliation. “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve”. He never once wavered in his convictions or his dreams and he has lived to see them all come to pass.
Nelson Mandela, known to many as the “Grandfather” of South Africa, embodies all the characteristics of a true hero. Mandela personifies the way in which the human spirit can triumph over hate and evil by embracing peace and reconciliation, in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. After his release from more than two decades of incarceration, many forces pressurized Mandela to take a hard, violent, vengeful approach to a free South Africa: “Over the objections of more radical ANC members, he urged conciliation with South African President de Klerk and other government leaders. He believed such an approach would enable blacks to obtain political power peacefully and his peace loving nature drove him to tirelessly seek a non-violent transition to a democratic government.
Mandela realized that the path of peace was the only way that his people would truly be victorious and reap the benefits of freedom and an equal society. Even though initially Mandela took part in the armed struggle, at the first opportunity, he chose to negotiate peacefully with his previously relentless persecutors. The armed struggle against the oppressing minority power, always went against Mandela’s true nature. He dreamed of what a free, democratic society should be, and he ultimately proved that the path of peace, negotiation, and reconciliation led to the realization of this dream.
It is not only his peace loving nature that makes him a hero, but his relentless belief in a free society and his unrelenting stance against the path of violence and bloodshed to achieve such a society.Courage has many forms, and Mandela demonstrated physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional courage throughout his hard life. Even in earlier years he stepped up into lead roles and defied the ruling powers concerning paramount issues . He never considered his personal safety or wellbeing but always courageously put his people and his true beliefs first. His courage never failed him as he continued to lead, inspire, and stand against unfair injustices perpetrated against him and his people.
While the whole world watched, the oppressive government convicted him of treason but yet he bravely stood up, stated what he believed in, and declared that he was willing to die for his convictions: “In the glare of worldwide publicity at the end of the trial, he delivered a dramatic final statement from the dock, concluding that ‘the ideal of a democratic and free society … is an ideal for which I am prepared to die’”. This amount of fearless dedication to a righteous cause makes Mandela a true, courageous hero. He sacrificed everything to ensure that his dream of a free, equal South Africa would come to pass. From his first appearance as a young activist lawyer, through his treason conviction and incarceration, until the day his people inaugurated him as South Africa’s first democratic president, Mandela exhibited a steadfast courage.
He achieved what no one thought possible- a negotiated, peaceful transition to a democratic government. Throughout his life his peace loving nature kept him focused and determined to pursue a non- violent path to freedom. “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others” these are his words. He unselfishly sacrificed himself, and willingly suffered for the good of all South African people. His courageous spirit led him to stand up against the overwhelming, ruling forces, and kept him from crumbling under the tremendous hardships he endured.
Nelson Mandela inspired a nation to achieve a wonderful, positive goal, and ultimately that is the true mark of a hero. To think of all his achievements, and realize what one truly good man can do, is an inspiration to all people. The streets of South Africa could so easily have run with the blood of its people, but the small boy who grew up in Umtata, propelled an entire nation along a peaceful path to a place.
Nelson Mandela grew up in poverty. His father died and he went to live with his uncle who wanted to marry him off to one of the village girls. But Nelson had other plans. He ran away to the big city of Johannesburg and it was there that he came into contact with apartheid, which means ‘apartness’. Blacks were separated from the whites and they were treated badly and unfairly. Nelson hated injustice and could not accept the way that people were treated differently because of the colour of their skin. He didn’t want his children – or any South African children – to grow up with apartheid. He said that he was prepared to die to give the children a better future. His struggle against apartheid and for the freedom of South Africa’s children cost him 27 years in prison.
Nelson was 72 when he was released. But despite being so badly treated, he did not want to take revenge on those responsible for apartheid. He wanted blacks and whites to live in harmony and to build a better future together. On receiving the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize, Nelson said: “South Africa’s children shall play in the open veldt, no longer tortured by hunger or disease or threatened with abuse. Children are our greatest treasure.”
Mandela Day is celebrated around the world each year to mark the anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s birthday on July 18. His birth name was Rolihlahla Mandela. His primary school teacher gave him the name Nelson. He liked boxing! Unsurprisingly it was not the violence of the sport that appealed to him, but the fact that “Boxing is egalitarian. In the ring, rank, age, colour and wealth are irrelevant…”A self-admitted poor student, he left both the University of the Witwatersrand AND the University of London without completing a degree but eventually got a law degree from the University of South Africa in 1989, during the last months of his imprisonment.
He also had honorary degrees from more than 50 universities around the world. He passed secret messages in prison. By leaving notes in empty matchboxes and under stacks of dirty dishes, Mandela managed to organize a hunger strike in order to improve the living conditions on Robben Island. He forgot his reading glasses in prison! Upon the release from his last and longest prison sentence, Mandela was taken to give a public address. When he took out his speech, he realized he had left his reading glasses behind and had to borrow a pair.
During the trial Mandela married a social worker, Winnie Madikizela, on 14 June 1958. They had two daughters, Zenani and Zindziswa. The couple divorced in 1996. One of his sons passed away due to AIDS. Mandela’s public announcement of his son’s condition helped break the stigma of the disease in South Africa: “Let us give publicity to HIV/AIDS and not hide it, because the only way to make it appear like a normal illness like tuberculosis, like cancer, is always to come out and to say somebody has died because of HIV/AIDS. And people will stop regarding it as something extraordinary.” After his presidency, Mandela started the Nelson Mandela Foundation, which focused on fighting HIV/AIDS.
Nelson Mandela never wavered in his devotion to democracy, equality and learning. Despite terrible provocation, he never answered racism with racism. His life is an inspiration to all who are oppressed and deprived; and to all who are opposed to oppression and deprivation. He served as the president of South Africa from 1994-1999 and was the first black president of South Africa, and the first president to be elected in a fully representative election. True to his promise, Mandela stepped down in 1999 after one term as President. He continued to work with the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund he set up in 1995 and established the Nelson Mandela Foundation and The Mandela Rhodes Foundation. He died at his home in Johannesburg on 5 December 2013.
“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die. ”Nelson Mandela
The writer is a regular columnist for this publication and can be reached at [email protected])