Tribute to Nelson ‘Madiba’ Mandela: From Prisoner to Liberator

By this morning the news has already spread like wildfire around the twittersphere and the web that the man synonymous with South Africa’s fight against apartheid is dead. Nelson Mandela, popularly known as Madiba by his country men, died Thursday at his home at the ripe age of 95.

Mandela led the struggle for South African democracy and was jailed for 27 years after which he became the country’s first black President. Even when he had the opportunity and popularity to go for a second tenure in office he stepped down after only five years on the seat. He has since been regarded as an enormous symbol of moral resistance and triumph over racial segregation.

In his jailhouse memoirs ‘Long Walk to Freedom’, Mandela wrote that even after spending so many years in a Spartan cell on Robben Island – with one visitor a year and one letter every six months – he still had faith in human nature.
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion,” he wrote in “Long Walk to Freedom.”

After retiring from public life in 2004 Mandela mostly stepped out of the spotlight spending more time in his home.

Born in July 18, 1918 Mandela was given the local name of ‘Rolihlahla’ which roughly translated to Troublemaker. Funny enough he seemed to have grown to become one for the apartheid rulers in South Africa then.

His father died when he was nine and he was sent to live with and be trained by a Chief in the provincial capital. Being the first member of his family to get education he later went to South Africa’s elite Fort Hare University. It was at Fort Hale that the activist blood in him started to show during a student boycott.

He joined the resurgent African National Congress just a few years before the National Party – controlled by the Afrikaners, the descendants of Dutch and French settlers – came to power on a platform of apartheid, in which the government enforced racial segregation and stripped non-whites of economic and political power.

As an ANC leader, Mandela advocated peaceful resistance against government discrimination and oppression – until 1961, when he launched a military wing called Spear of the Nation and a campaign of sabotage.
The next year, he was arrested and soon hit with treason charges. At the opening of his trial in 1964, he said his adoption of armed struggle was a last resort born of bloody crackdowns by the government.
“Fifty years of non-violence had brought the African people nothing but more and more repressive legislation and fewer and few rights,” he said from the dock.

“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 for which I hope to live for and achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment and was sent to Robben Island as inmate No. 466/64 where he did hard labour in a quarry, slept on the floor of a 6 foot wide cell and earned a law degree by correspondence.

As the years passed, his incarceration drew ever more attention, with intensifying cries for his release as a global anti-apartheid movement gained traction. Songs were dedicated to him and 600 million people watched the Free Mandela concert at London’s Wembley Stadium in 1988.

In 1985, he turned down the government’s offer to free him if he renounced armed struggle against apartheid. It wasn’t until South African President P.W. Botha had a stroke and was replaced by F.W. de Klerk in 1989 that the stage was set for his release.

After a ban on the ANC was repealed, a whiter-haired Mandela walked out prison before a jubilant crowd and told a rally in Cape Town that the fight was far from over.
“Our struggle has reached a decisive moment,” he said. “We have waited too long for our freedom. We can no longer wait.”

Over the next two years, Mandela proved himself a formidable negotiator as he pushed South Africa toward its first multiracial elections amid tension and violence. He and de Klerk were honored with the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts.

A year into his tenure, with racial tensions threatening to explode into civil war, Mandela orchestrated an iconic, unifying moment: He donned the green jersey of the Springboks rugby team – beloved by whites, despised by blacks – to present the World Cup trophy to the team captain while the stunned crowd erupted in cheers of “Nelson! Nelson!”

He chose to serve only one five-year term – during which he divorced his second wife, Winnie, a controversial activist, and married his third, Graca, the widow of the late president of Mozambique.
After leaving politics, he concentrated on his philanthropic foundation. He began speaking out on AIDS, which had ravaged his country and which some critics said he had not made a priority as president.

When he officially announced he was leaving public life in 2004, it signaled he was slowing down, but he still made his presence known. For his 89th birthday, he launched a “council of elders,” statesmen and women from around the world who would promote peace. For his 90th, he celebrated at a star-studded concert in London’s Hyde Park.

As he noted in 2003, “If there is anything that would kill me it is to wake up in the morning not knowing what to do.”

In April, de Klerk was asked on the BBC if he feared that Mandela’s eventual death would expose fissures in South Africa that his grandfatherly presence had kept knitted together.

De Klerk said that Madiba would be just as unifying a force in death.
“When Mandela goes, it will be a moment when all South Africans put away their political differences, take hands, and will together honor maybe the biggest South African that has ever lived,” he said.

From prisoner to liberator, Nelson Mandela’s fight for equality in South Africa serves as a shining example of justice and peace.

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About Paul

Paul Eze is the Co-founder and CEO at NGCareers. He is an avid writer. Connect with Paul on Twitter

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