Among the men who have had a profound impact on their countries and the world, men who provided leadership and vision in different eras, with different styles, whom history has shown to have possessed unique courage during challenging times to do the right thing, comes the name of Nelson Mandela who assisted in creating a multi-racial democracy in South Africa.
Mandela was elected as South Africa’s first black president, and there were high expectations from him from a country that had long treated its majority citizens as a third-class group. For Mandela, the transition to majority rule had to take place without violence as he knew the world was watching. He knew it would not be easy. Of course, he alone was not responsible for the positive changes that have happened in South Africa, and the country still has a long way to go to overcome the years of a system that was designed to make people suffer. But Mandela has made a difference.
Mandela was the founding member of the ANC (African National Congress) Youth League. It was during his service at the ANCYL that he transformed the organization from its root level, trashing out all the old methods and employing fresh methods of boycotting, striking, civil disobedience and non-cooperation. His main aim was to kill racism, allow full citizenship to people, redistribute land, bestow trade union rights, and provide free and compulsory education for all children.
Ironically, his baptized forename, ‘Rolihlahla’ meaning ‘troublemaker’, blended well with his personality over the growing years as Nelson Mandela caused serious trouble to the government of South Africa, through this anti-apartheid movement and revolutionary ways. Inheriting the ‘proud rebelliousness’ and ‘sense of fairness, from his father, ever since a young age, Mandela was actively involved in anti-colonial politics, which led to his joining the ANC. This admittance was a historic one not only in the life of Mandela but that of every countrymen of South Africa, as it eventually led to a discrimination-free country
Inspired by Gandhi and committed to non-violent struggle, Mandela however moved to armed struggle after a phase of time. This was basically due to failure of non-violent protest against apartheid and increasing repression and violence from the state. In his 67 years long political career, Mandela led numerous movements, and was arrested, convicted and imprisoned various times, the longest being the 27 years life imprisonment.
He was arrested for illegal exit from the country and sentenced to five years of imprisonment. The imprisonment protracted to become life-imprisonment for Mandela as he was convicted for crimes that had occurred while he was spearheading the ANC struggle. Though he was offered freedom on a couple of occasions in exchange for compromising on his political position, he refused to accept the same. He stood by his opinion according to which personal freedom was of no use if the organization of the people remained banned.
However, all the pain he endured was worth it as year 1994 marked the end of apartheid and holding of multi-racial elections. Mandela became the inaugural President of the country, the first black South African to hold the office. This is why he is referred to by numerous titles, including ‘the father of the nation’, ‘the founding father of democracy’, ‘the national liberator, the saviour, South Africa’s Washington and Lincoln rolled into one’.
Nelson Mandela is a man who stood firm and took his country from the extremes of apartheid through to democracy. For this he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in1993. He has received more than 250 awards that are in every way honorable, ranging from keys to cities and honorary degrees to the peace prize. Lately the ailing 95 years old Nelson Mandela was presented with a humanitarian achievement award for his contribution to South-South cooperation and sustainable development. The theme of the annual event was innovation and technology for sustainable development.
The award sought to highlight the achievements of countries in the Global South, and recognize public and private sector leaders who have contributed significantly to South-South cooperation and sustainable development. In accepting the prize on behalf of their father, Zindzi Mandela and Josina Machel stressed Nelson Mandela’s dedication to wide-ranging cooperation among developing nations. In any Nelson Mandela interview you will find him to be a man of humour, honesty and humility.
These are great attributes in any man, but Mandela can be considered among the greats. One of those greats was Gandhi. Mandela paid tribute to Gandhi with these words: “He dared to exhort nonviolence in a time when the violence of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had exploded on us; he exhorted morality when science, technology and the capitalist order had made it redundant; he replaced self-interest with group interest without minimizing the importance of self. India is Gandhi’s country of birth; South Africa his country of adoption.” Gandhi and Mandela were like-minded men. There is also a lot of mutual respect between Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama. The latter sent a videoed message to Mandela on his 91st birthday in which he displays the utmost respect for Nelson Mandela and his life’s achievements.
To day many associations have shown reverence to Mandela in various ways. Some have put statues of the highly esteemed personality in important places. There is one such statue in Nelson Mandela Square in Johannesburg and one in Parliament Square, London. There are also streets and bridges named in his honour, as well as postage stamps. The Nelson Mandela stadium in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, seats 46,500 and was built in anticipation of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The Nelson Mandela museum is situated near his home of Qunu. Mandela has insisted that this museum should not be a tribute to just his own life, but to the cause he stood for and to uplift and develop the local community.
The Nelson Mandela Children’s fund supports children in South Africa with the aim to change the way society treats its children and youth. The Nelson Mandela Foundation is a huge organisation with the aim to promote a just society built on Mandela’s vision and work. Along with many peace and educational activities Mandela has been prominent and outspoken in his effort against AIDS. His son died from AIDS, which is often referred to as ‘the curse of Africa’. For Nelson Mandela, AIDS is another war, another impossibility that can still be won.
Since 2003 Mandela has supported the 46664 concerts to support HIV/AIDS victims and research. With all the awards and honorary degrees and accolades, Nelson Mandela’s achievements have certainly been more than most men would achieve in a life time. From a young boy, schooled for royalty, to political activist, to prisoner, to President, to honoured scholar and statesman, Nelson Rolihlahla has done so much for the world and will go down as one of history’s greatest men. It is little wonder that July 18 (his birthday) has been named as ‘Mandela Day’. His contribution to the world has been significant indeed.