The media today is dominated by coverage of Nelson Mandela’s death at age 95. Following a few fast facts designed to put this great man in perspective, I’m reposting the best of the obituaries I’ve seen posted today. (It’s long, but worth it)
Facts you might not see in today’s mainstream media coverage:
- During his 27 years of imprisonment he was forced to labor in Robben Island’s limestone quarry. The dust damaged his tear ducts, and when released, he could not cry.
- He was never a pacifist, never a Gandhi and never afraid to assert the absolute right of the oppressed to fight back
- The South African government banned photos of Mandela in prison. When he was released in 1990, few South Africans knew what he looked like.
- Even after serving as the first Black President of South Africa and receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, Mandela remained on the US terrorist watch list, requiring special certification from the State Department to enter the country. In 2008 George W Bush signed a bill fixing this just prior to his 90th birthday.
- Mandela’s arrest in 1962 came as the result of a CIA informant, allowing the South African police to nab him at a roadblock, even though he was disguised as a chauffeur.
A great remembrance, published yesterday:
Farewell Madiba, Who We Once Called Nelson Mandela
By shanikka / Daily Kos
Nelson Mandela, the world’s most famous political prisoner, the man who following decades of fighting oppression and imprisonment was the first father of a new nation called South Africa, has died today at the age of 95.
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, GCStJ, OM, was born in the village of Mvezo, located on the Mbashe River in the district of Umtata, on Eastern Cape of the Transkei in South Africa, on July 18, 1918. His birth name, translated from isiXhosa, means “pulling the branch of the tree” or, colloquially, “Troublemaker.”
Upon his ascension to manhood at the age of 16 following circumcision in accordance with the traditions of his clan, Mandela received an additional name, the tribal honorific “Dalibhunga”given to those born from royal ancestry. At the age of 23, to escape a planned marriage arranged by his guardian and tribal leader, Mandela fled his home and settled in Johannesburg. He later married his first wife, an ANC activist named Evelyn Nkoto Mase in 1944. Together, they had two daughters and two sons, named Madiba Thembekile (d. 1969), Makgatho Lewanika (d. 2005), and Pumla Makaziwe (Maki, the first born in 1947 who died in infancy, the second born in 1953 and named after her deceased elder sister).
Mandela enrolled at the University of Fort Hare but left after his freshmen year, following his involvement in several student protests. He subsequently received his B.A degree in law from the University of South Africa, a correspondence school, in 1943.
Although he subsequently enrolled as the only African student in the law program at University of the Witwatersrand, he did not pass his final year examinations for the LLB after several efforts, and ultimately was denied a degree from that institution. He then elected to qualify for admission as a lawyer under the practical “qualifying” program which would, upon completion of a clerkship, entitle him to receive the license.
In 1943, Mandela became an articles clerk at a white South African law firm, thanks to the efforts of friend Walter Sisulu (who would subsequently also be imprisoned for life with Mandela for his anti-apartheid work until his release in 1989.). Along with college friend Oliver Tambo, Mandela opened the first black law partnership in South Africa in July 1951.
In 1944, Madiba joined the African National Congress (ANC). Dissatisfied with the direction of the ANC and its ineffectiveness at achieving change due to what was then described as a “a dying order of pseudo-liberalism and conservatism, of appeasement and compromise”, Madiba, along with Ashley P. Mada, Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu, formed the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) in 1945. In 1947, following internal disputes at the ANC which led to the ouster of its then-President by those who, like Madiba, were increasingly frustrated at the pacifist approach taken by the ANC. Madiba was elected Secretary of the ANCYL in 1948 and (his comrade Walter Sisulu having first been elected as ANC’s President in December 1949), became President of the ANCYL in 1950 and, subsequently Deputy National President of the ANC in 1952. This gave Madiba more direct ability to influence ANC policy nationwide.
In 1952, Madiba became a regional leader of the Campaign for the Defiance of Unjust Laws(the Defiance Campaign), a nonviolent resistance program of the ANC, the South African Indian Congress and the regional communist party. The emphasis of the Defiance Campaign was intended to be nonviolent protest similar to that engaged in in the United States: sit-ins, protest marches and other forms of civil disobedience. However, shortly after the Campaign’s inception, Madiba, along with Sisulu, Tambo and others, were arrested while involved in various protests and quickly charged with violating South Africa’s new Suppression of Communism Act in June 1952. He was convicted and received a suspended sentence of 9 months of hard labor. He also received a six-month ban, preventing him from speaking to gatherings (i.e more than one person at a time) or leaving Johannesburg—a banning that was repeatedly renewed.
In December 1956, Mandela was again arrested and charged, along with more than 150 others, by the South African government with high treason (the Treason Trial). He was acquitted on March 21, 1961 following a four-year long trial. Following the infamous Sharpeville Massacre on March 31, 1960, and the ANC was banned by the South African government. Despite this and his existing banning order preventing his travel, Mandela left the country to continue his political activities. This resulted in his arrest in August 1961 and conviction on charges of incitement of workers to strike and illegally leaving South Africa without valid travel documents. Mandela was then sent to serve his sentence—five years hard labor—at the infamous Robben Island Prison in November 1962. He remained there until he was transported from Robben Island to the South African High Court in Rivonia in 1963 to face trial for charges of sabotage, conspiracy to overthrow the government by revolution, and assisting an armed invasion of South Africa by foreign troops, charges that carried the death penalty.
Following his acquittal in the Treason Trial, and before his conviction in 1962, Madiba was divorced from his first wife, Grace, in 1958. That same year, he married a social worker namedNomzamo Winfreda (“Winnie”) Madikizela. Winnie and Nelson Mandela had two daughters: Zenani (Zeni) and Zindziswa (Zindi), who were born in 1958 and 1960 respectively.
In May 1961, in a now-famous interview with a British television journalist, Madiba noted his concerns that what had previously been a peaceful protest movement for equality in South Africa was failing:
The Africans want the franchise on the basis of one man, one vote. . .
It is useless and futile for us to continue talking peace and non-violence against a government whose reply is only savage attacks on an unarmed and defenceless people and I think the time has come for us to consider, in the light of our experiences in this stay-at-home, whether the methods which we have applied so far are adequate.
A month later, in June 1961, Madiba and others formed Umkhonto we Sizwe (“Spear of the Nation” in Xhosa, popularly known in South Africa as the MK). The MK served as the armed subdivision of the African National Congress (ANC.) The mission of Umkhonto we Sizwe was simple: the end of apartheid by any means necessary. From its manifesto:
Umkhonto we Sizwe is a new, independent body, formed by Africans. It includes in its ranks South Africans of all races. . .
The time comes in the life of any nation when there remain only two choices: submit or fight. That time has now come to South Africa. We shall not submit and we have no choice but to hit back by all means within our power in defence of our people, our future and our freedom. The government has interpreted the peacefulness of the movement as weakness; the people`s non-violent policies have been taken as a green light for government violence. Refusal to resort to force has been interpreted by the government as an invitation to use armed force against the people without any fear of reprisals. The methods of Umkhonto we Sizwe mark a break with that past.
We are striking out along a new road for the liberation of the people of this country. The government policy of force, repression and violence will no longer be met with non-violent resistance only! The choice is not ours; it has been made by the Nationalist government which has rejected ever peaceable demand by the people for rights and freedom and answered ever such demand with force and yet more force! . . .The Nationalist government has chosen the course of force and massacre, now, deliberately, as it did at Sharpeville.
Umkhonto we Sizwe will be at the front line of the people`s defence. It will be the fighting arm of the people against the government and its policies of race oppression. It will be the striking force of the people for liberty, for rights and for their final liberation! . .
We of Umkhonto we Sizwe have always sought -as the liberation movement has sought—to achieve liberation without bloodshed and civil clash. We do so still. We hope – even at this late hour – that our first actions will awaken everyone to a realisation of the disastrous situation to which the Nationalist policy is leading. We hope that we will bring the government and its supporters to their senses before it is too late, so that both the government and its policies can be changed before matters reach the desperate state of civil war. . .
In August, 1962, Mandela was arrested by the South African government, and ultimately convicted of inciting workers to strike. Subsequently, he along with Walter Sisulu and other key South African freedom fighters were arrested and charged with 221 counts of At the Rivonia trial, Madiba made an impassioned 1.5 hour argument in his defense, which ended:
During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. 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.
Madiba’s conviction in the Rivonia High Court in 1964 for sabotage, (which normally carried a death sentence, but for which Mandela was sentenced to life in prison) 27 years of imprisonment, most spent in solitary confinement. Most of these years (1964-1982) were spent on South Africa’s notorious Robben Island, an island which had previously served as a leper colony and, later, a military installation. (He was later transferred to maximum-securityPollsmoor Prison in Capetown, and, after he was hospitalized and treated for tuberculosis in 1988, to the far less-oppressive Victor Verster (now Groot Drakenstein) Prison. He remained incarcerated there until his release in 1990. While at Robben Island, Mandela was allowed one (1) 30-minute long visit a year, and one (1) outgoing and incoming letter every six months; effectively keeping him from the outside world and the ongoing fight against apartheid in his homeland.
In the years preceding his release, the South African government had repeatedly offered Madiba his freedom on the condition that he renounce violence. Madiba refused, repeatedly. As he told the South African people through the voice of his daughter, Zinzi, advised the world in 1985:
I cherish my own freedom dearly, but I care even more for your freedom. . . I am not less life-loving than you are. But I cannot sell my birthright, nor am I prepared to sell the birthright of the people to be free. I am in prison as the representative of the people and of your organisation, the African National Congress, which was banned.
What freedom am I being offered while the organisation of the people remains banned? What freedom am I being offered when I may be arrested on a pass offence? What freedom am I being offered to live my life as a family with my dear wife who remains in banishment in Brandfort? What freedom am I being offered when I must ask for permission to live in an urban area? What freedom am I being offered when I need a stamp in my pass to seek work? What freedom am I being offered when my very South African citizenship is not respected?
Only free men can negotiate. Prisoners cannot enter into contracts. Herman Toivo ja Toivo, when freed, never gave any undertaking, nor was he called upon to do so.
I cannot and will not give any undertaking at a time when I and you, the people, are not free.
Your freedom and mine cannot be separated. I will return.
In the face of world-wide furor over apartheid and Madiba’s continuing imprisonment, hated South African president P.W. Botha resigned in 1989. Following the appointment of F. W. deKlerk to the presidency, meetings began in earnest to secure a peaceful end to apartheid and the release of its political prisoners. Madiba was released from prison on February 11, 1990.
Rather than take a well-earned rest and enjoy his first taste of freedom after 27 years, Madiba immediately returned to leadership of the African National Congress and began an international campaign calling for the end of apartheid and the institution of majority rule in earnest, while also engaging in negotiations with the South African government towards that same end. He began just two days after his release with a now-famous speech at Soccer City/The Calabash (today known as FNB Stadium) on February 13, 1990 in Soweto before 60,000 people which made plain that the ANC’s fight for racial equality in South Africa would go on while cautioning the crowd to reign in the extremist elements that had developed during his absence:
As I said when I stood in the dock at the Rivonia Trial 27 years ago and as I said on the day of my release in Cape Town, the ANC will pursue the armed struggle against the government as long as the violence of apartheid continues. Our armed combatants act under the political leadership of the ANC. Cadres of our People’s Army are skilled, not only in military affairs, but act as the political commissars of our movement. . .
Our history has shown that apartheid has stifled growth, created mass unemployment and led to spiralling inflation that has undermined the standards of living of the majority of our people, both black and white. Only a participatory democracy involving our people in the structures of decision making at all levels of society can ensure that this is corrected. We will certainly introduce policies that address the economic problems that we face. . .
A number of obstacles to the creation of a non-racial democratic South Africa remain and need to be tackled. The fears of whites about their rights and place in a South Africa they do not control exclusively are an obstacle we must understand and address. I stated in 1964 that I and the ANC are as opposed to black domination as we are to white domination. We must accept however that our statements and declarations alone will not be sufficient to allay the fears of white South Africans. We must clearly demonstrate our goodwill to our white compatriots and convince them by our conduct and arguments that a South Africa without apartheid will be a better home for all. A new South Africa has to eliminate the racial hatred and suspicion caused by apartheid and offer guarantees to all its citizens of peace, security and prosperity. We call on those, who out of ignorance, have collaborated with apartheid in the past, to join our liberation struggle. No man or woman who has abandoned apartheid will be excluded from our movement towards a non-racial united and democratic South Africa, based on one person one vote on a common voters’ roll.
In the four years prior to the first election in South Africa where Black citizens would be empowered to vote for the first time, and in response to world-wide fears that Black South Africans would use the now-inevitable end of apartheid and Mandela’s release to pursue violent retribution for their oppression against whites, Madiba undertook valiant efforts to put aside those fears. For example, in a speech made before the Irish Parliament on July 2, 1990, Madiba argued:
It could have been that our own hearts turned to stone. It could have been that we inscribed vengeance on our banners of battle and resolved to meet brutality with brutality. But we understood that oppression dehumanises the oppressor as it hurts the oppressed. We understood that to emulate the barbarity of the tyrant would also transform us into savages. We knew that we would sully and degrade our cause if we allowed that it should, at any stage, borrow anything from the practices of the oppressor. We had to refuse that our long sacrifice should make a stone of our hearts.
In elections observed by the European Union Elections Observation Commissions and other worldwide NGO’s committed to ensuring free and fair elections, over a voting period of three days (from April 27 through April 29, 1990), nearly 20,000,000 South Africans of all races and ethnicities cast their votes for President and to elect members of South Africa’s National Assembly, Senate and Provincial Legislatures. The ANC ultimately captured 60% of the votes for national office, and Madiba was elected as the first democratically-elected president of the Republic of South Africa.
At his inauguration on May 10, 1994, Mandela promised his countryman that:
The time for the healing of the wounds has come.
The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come.
The time to build is upon us.
We have, at last, achieved our political emancipation. We pledge ourselves to liberate all our people from the continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender and other discrimination.
We succeeded to take our last steps to freedom in conditions of relative peace. We commit ourselves to the construction of a complete, just and lasting peace.
We have triumphed in the effort to implant hope in the breasts of the millions of our people. We enter into a covenant that we shall build the society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity – a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world. . .
We must therefore act together as a united people, for national reconciliation, for nation building, for the birth of a new world.
Let there be justice for all.
Let there be peace for all.
Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all.
Let each know that for each the body, the mind and the soul have been freed to fulfill themselves.
Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world.
Let freedom reign.
The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement!
God bless Africa!
As he promised prior to the election, Nelson Mandela served only one term as President of South Africa, leaving office on June 14, 1999 upon the election of Thabo Nbeki.
Following his release and subsequent election to the Presidency, and unlike many African leaders trapped in antiquated anti-gay notions about the disease, Madiba was at the vanguard of calling for urgency in combating the dramatic spread of AIDS and HIV in the Motherland both prior to, and following, the death of his son, Makgatho, from AIDS in 2005. Although he did not focus on the cause during his presidency, which generated some criticism, . In 2002, Madiba helped found a new nongovernmental organization, 46664, whose mission was to educate about, and combat, the spread of AIDS/HIV in South Africa and the continent.
Nelson Mandela was the recipient of numerous awards, honorary titles and accolades during his lifetime. For example, Madiba was named Time Magazine’s 1990 Man of the Year. He received investitures from Queen Elizabeth as an honorary member of England’s Order of Meritin 1995 and as Bailiff Grand Cross of the Venerable Order of St. John in 2004. He was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize from the (former) Soviet Union in 1990, and the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom by George W. Bush on July 9, 2002. Madiba was awarded the1993 Nobel Peace Prize (along with former South African President F.W. de Klerk) “for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa”. In his Nobel acceptance speech, Madiba remarked on his place in a worldwide struggle to end racial and other oppressions:
We do not believe that this Nobel Peace Prize is intended as a commendation for matters that have happened and passed.
We hear the voices which say that it is an appeal from all those, throughout the universe, who sought an end to the system of apartheid.
We understand their call, that we devote what remains of our lives to the use of our country`s unique and painful experience to demonstrate, in practice, that the normal condition for human existence is democracy, justice, peace, non-racism, non-sexism, prosperity for everybody, a healthy environment and equality and solidarity among the peoples.
Moved by that appeal and inspired by the eminence you have thrust upon us, we undertake that we too will do what we can to contribute to the renewal of our world so that none should, in future, be described as the wretched of the earth. . .
Let the strivings of us all prove Martin Luther King Jr. to have been correct, when he said that humanity can no longer be tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war.
Let the efforts of us all, prove that he was not a mere dreamer when he spoke of the beauty of genuine brotherhood and peace being more precious than diamonds or silver or gold.
Let a new age dawn!
After a 4-year period of estrangement brought on by alleged infidelity and her endorsement of extremely violent approaches to furthering South Africa’s revolution (including barbaric practices such as necklacing, kidnapping and murder) during Madiba’s imprisonment, Nelson Mandela was divorced from Winnie Mandela in 1996. On his 80th birthday, Mandela subsequently remarried Dame Graça Machel, the former First Lady of Mozambique and an activist.
Nelson Mandela retired from politics on June 18, 1999 and from most public life in 2004.
In 2008, following Madiba’s 90th birthday, there was a call to worldwide service, in his honor. Thus, in in 2009 the United Nations designated Madiba’s birthday, July 18, as Nelson Mandela International Day. Mandela Day is “a call to action for individuals – for people everywhere – to take responsibility for changing the world into a better place, one small step at a time.” As the official website for Mandela Day describes:
Mandela Day, an international day officially recognised by the United Nations, is an opportunity for people around the world to spend at least 67 minutes doing something good for others, one minute in honour of Nelson Mandela’s 67 years of service to humanity.
Shortly before Madiba’s death, as part of their 2013 Mandela Day celebrations South Africans launched the inaugural Mandela Sport Day, to be held each year on July 4. Mandela Sport Day reflects Madiba’s belief, first expressed in 2000, that “sport has the power to change the world” and his efforts once a free man to implement that belief through South Africa’s famous rugby team in 1995. Specifically, Madiba entreated Black Africans to embrace South Africa’s famous, all white, team, the Springboks at the 1995 Rugby World Cup, rather than boo them as a symbol of apartheid in keeping with their historical practice. These efforts were ultimately dramatized in 2009 in the film Invictus(titled to honor Madiba’s favorite poem which was written by William Ernest Henley and first published in 1875).
There are too many words that can be quoted to demonstrate the power that Madiba has had, worldwide, to inspire activists to fight for true justice. Here are just two more, one from 1993 and the other from 1996 which, today here in America, the oppressed could take as their own fundamental calls to action:
Once you have rid yourself of the fear of the oppressor and his prisons, his police, his army, there is nothing that they can do. You are liberated.
When people are determined they can overcome anything.
Countless books exist chronicling the life and work of Nelson Mandela exist, most notably his own autobiographical works, which include Long Walk to Freedom, Conversations with Myself and Nelson Mandela: In His Own Words. In furtherance of preserving his legacy, theNelson Mandela Centre of Memory retains digital archives of primary source material as well. In keeping with his personal values, Madiba also founded or facilitated the founding of several charitable and political institutions, including the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and theNelson Mandela Centre of Memory and The Elders, an organization of independent global leaders (including Kofi Annan, Jimmy Carter, and Desmond Tutu) whose mission is to influence and support peace and human rights globally.
Madiba is survived by his wife, Graça Machel, his three daughters, 17 grandchildren, and an unknown number of great-grandchildren, and other relatives. He also leaves behind a world of friends who will always hold him and his life’s work in beloved esteem and always be thankful for his existence.