It is today, December 15th, that the world says goodbye to one of the greatest contributors to mankind the world has ever seen. We say goodbye to a man who fought for what he believed in for over 40 years. Today we say goodbye to Nelson Mandela, whom has ended his journey on “The Long Walk To Freedom”.
The former President of South Africa died at his home in Johannesburg last Thursday (December 5th) and today marks his funeral where he will be laid to rest in his home town of Qunu. Known to his native people as “Madiba”, he played a pivotal part in the fight against the apartheid regime in South Africa.
Many people have mourned the loss of his life and rightly so. If the death of this great man does not become the most tweeted moment in History, then humanity should self-reflect in shame. Whilst most people, myself included, think they know what he did, I felt that we were probably being ignorant to his true achievements. So, I decided to go and do some research.
It remains the case that only those who have been victims of systematic oppression will be able to truly understand his significance and impact but for the rest of us we can learn about and appreciate what he gave to those people. So this piece, in essence, is my tribute to and summary of the life of Nelson Mandela.
His life, it is fair to say, was never easy. His father died when he was just twelve years old, thus meaning huge responsibilities were thrust upon him. Nelson’s strength of character also showed at an early age. He was expelled from his University College for joining in a student protest and later ran away from home after resisting forced marriage.
He spent many years as an activist standing against the long-lasting apartheid regime. The word apartheid means “the state of being apart” which is essentially what the system was. It was devisive and cruel. Black people were segregated and ruled over by the white minority. This had long been the way of life in South Africa – ever since Dutch rule – but after World War Two it became official party policy whilst the National Party ruled the country between 1948 and 1994.
This song released by Eddy Grant describes what apartheid was about …
Mandela questioned this status quo and spent many years battling against it. He had gone through a number of trials and some years in prison before the famous Rivonia Trial where he was put on trial for sabotage. He was convicted and was handed a sentence of life imprisonment, despite facing the death penalty.
It was during his 27 years in prison (on Robben Island and in other prisons), where he continued to develop ideas for the future of his South Africa. His ideology was clear when he spoke at the dock at the Rivonia Trial where he said, “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.”
Around twenty years after he was first sentenced, he became somewhat of a culture icon in the Western world. In 1984, the song “Nelson Mandela” was released in protest against the apartheid government along with many other songs (including “Gimme Hope Joanna) and movements against the regime.
The story of Nelson was adopted by the world and this put mounting pressure upon South Africa. Towards the end of the 1980s, changes were taking place and on February 11th 1990, Mandela was set free from prison nine days after the African National Congress, of which he later became President of, was unbanned. He had rejected release on three separate occasions preceding that.
The scenes in this video are unbelievably moving as the public cheer and sing “you’ll never walk alone”. Many do not realise that here he is aged 72, had suffered from TB and had had a prostate operation recently. Yet, he had the strength and determination to go on and lead his country from 1994 until 1999.
Whilst his reign was not of any great length, he believed it was important for change to continue taking place so that no one could be in power for too long.
Oliver Tambo, his life-long friend, escaped any imprisonment as he lived exiled in London before returning to South Africa after 30 years. Tambo was President of the ANC during this time but never became President of his country; he died before the 1994 general election, which Mandela won for the ANC – who are still in power today.
During his time in prison, though, he was by no means fully supported. The Conservative Party under Thatcher in the UK branded the ANC as “a typical terrorist organisation” after opposing sanctions being placed on the country. The ANC had displayed acts of violence against the government before and Thatcher believed that many of the leaders were communists and would dismantle the capitalist state in South Africa. She was proved so wrong.
Nelson Mandela symbolises what the longevity and sustainability of your willpower can achieve. His ability to forgive, I think, is unrivalled as he fought for black equality, not supremacy, after years of racial discrimination against black South Africans. No words can do justice to a man who gave democracy and equality to a whole people and thus inspired a movement across the world where prejudice is now much harder to find.
He made an effort to embrace everything in life. His famous image with the South African Rugby Team was very symbollic in bringing black and white people together in his country. We are told that his actions in a room would make everyone at ease and despite his struggles and strifes, he would take great interest in people and show great humility.
His dance is now famous and it has also become the dance I deploy whilst jigging along at the discotheque. He could make anyone smile and here’s the bright side of Nelson Mandela …
If there is to be a better man than Mandela, he will cure disease or bring world peace. For the sake of future generations, I hope Nelson Mandela is never forgotten.