It is with sadness but a certain feeling of inevitability that we heard of Nelson Mandela’s passing. At 95, after months of ill health, media speculation and South African people’s prayers and best wishes, the lawyer, political activist, and the first black president of South Africa gave up his last fight.
Born in Umtata, South Africa in 1918, he spent his life fighting for the people of his country and throughout the world, especially those denied basic human rights and privileges. From the age of 26, when he became president of the Congress Youth League, his political and human rights work continued up until very recently when his ill health forced his withdrawal from public life.
He became leader of the African National Conference (ANC), in 1961 and was imprisoned as a political prisoner for nearly 27 years. He embodied struggle against government mandated discrimination, and his depth of commitment, courage and determination gave strength to South African blacks and minorities and also hope and encouragement to people around the world concerned with human rights and the basic freedoms of oppressed people worldwide.
For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that enhances the freedom of others – Nelson Mandela
His tribal name, Rolihlahla, means ‘one who brings trouble upon himself’. This is quite fitting for a man determined not to let his personal comfort, safety and health stand in the way of his beliefs. His second wife Winnie Mandela, (he married three times and had six children), once said of her husband, “He told me to anticipate a life physically without him, that there would never be a normal situation where he would be head of the family.” She said he told her this with great pain.
Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world – Nelson Mandela
On August 4, 1962, he was arrested by South African police and charged with organising illegal demonstrations. He was sentenced to five years in prison, but while in prison, he was charged with treason and sabotage and received a life sentence.
He was offered complete freedom in 1985 in return for his renunciation of violence in the struggle for his people’s freedom, but he refused to do so until the government granted blacks full political rights.
After his release in 1990, he assumed the leadership of the ANC, which was now a legal organisation. He called for a truce in the armed struggle and to open negotiations towards human rights in South Africa. He toured the world, raising funds for his cause and increasing awareness from world leaders and the world as a whole.
South Africa moved towards free and fair elections, and on 12 May 1994, Mandela was elected President of South Africa. He focused his attention on health, housing, education and economic stability. His government introduced legislation requiring workplace safety, overtime pay and minimum wages.
He retired from office in 1999, but continued to campaign for civil rights. He offered his services as a mediator for peace, and between countries, such as brokering a settlement between Libya and western powers over the Lockerbie Bombings.
He won the Nobel Peace Prize, the Anne Frank Medal for Human Rights and Tolerance, the International Gandhi Peace Prize, and the Ambassador of Conscience award from Amnesty International among many other international accolades.
Christchurch City Libraries has a wealth of books, and access to online databases with information about this great man. He wrote seven books, and the library has many books on Nelson Mandela, his life, politics and the times he lived in and had influence over.
If you wish to find some information about him on-line, try our own Source collection of databases, in particular, Biography in Context , or World Book – Online Reference . These are great resources for children doing school projects too.
Do you have memories of Nelson Mandela, or have you been inspired by the man and his beliefs?