The world is in mourning following the news of Nelson Mandela’s death on Thursday this week, the 5th of December 2013, at age 95. Mandela, hailed as one of the greatest activists of our time, was born on the 18th of July 1918. He was originally named Rolihlahla; a term which in Xhosa – amusingly and, arguably, fittingly – means troublemaker. Born in South Africa’s tempestuous Cape Province his mother Nosekeni Fanny was the third wife Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa. Interestingly, Mandela was assigned the Anglophone name Nelson by his teacher on his first day of school. Mandela’s father died of a lung infection when he was only 9 years old, when he was placed under the guardianship of the acting chief of the Thembu tribe.
Mandela grew up an academic and sportsman. While studying for his BA at Fort Hare University, though, the future politician began to live up to his ‘troublemaker’ name when he was suspended from the university for getting involved in a boycott against certain university policies. During this time, Mandela was developing an interest in black rights and had connections with the anti-imperialist movement in South Africa – an interest which would determine not only his future but the future of millions of South Africans. A few years later, having run away from his home in objection to an arranged marriage, Mandela began his studies in law at the University of Witwatersrand where he was reportedly the only African American student in a community plagued by endemic racism. He became a member of the African National Congress in the early ’40s and, in arguably the first significant political move in his long career, founded the Youth league of the ANC. The apartheid policy in South Africa was fully implemented in 1948, and in 1952 Mandela and his friend and colleague Oliver Tambo opened the first black legal firm in South Africa; they were deeply involved in the ANC defiance campaign and offered cheap legal service to the black community.
The ANC was banned in 1960, forcing Mandela to go underground when he formed the Spear of the Nation; a military wing of the ANC. He later called for an armed rebellion in 1961 and was arrested on the 5th of August 1962, charged with treason. This arrest is often hailed as the turning point in the history of South Africa, and the moment that would cement Mandela’s future as a world leader. It was after a re-arrest in 1964 when Nelson Mandela was tried for sabotage and treason and was sentenced to life imprisonment. He spent 18 years in Robben Island and another 6 years at Pollsmoor Prison. After spending a further 3 years, between 1988-1990, at Victor Verster Prison he was granted freedom. He went on to become the first black President of South Africa, and would be one of the world’s most influential figures in the fight for human rights. Between the fateful arrest in 1962, and his death this month, December 2013, some defining moments in Nelson Mandela’s life would change the world. While his achievements are arguably innumerable, we’ve aimed to select the five most significant and far-reaching of Nelson Mandela’s successes.
5. 12.2 million South Africans elect Mandela in 1994
The April 27th 1994 elections proved to be a defining moment in the history of the South African public. Of almost 20 million votes, the African National Congress – with Mandela as their leader – won almost two thirds of the total votes. The ANC had initiated a campaign to encourage political involvement at a grass roots level, aiming to educate citizens on the worth of their vote. Much of the South African Press was against the election of Mandela, but despite ANC-bashing media, Mandela’s charismatic presence and apparently tangible integrity won out. The world watched as millions of South Africans lined up to vote for the first time in their lives. Mandela won the elections in an unprecedented landslide, with over 12.2 million votes. Without doubt, the election of 1994 had much more wide-ranging ripple effects: The democratically-elected government initiated a huge campaign to address the deeply entrenched socio-economic problems that had resulted from the apartheid system.
4. Over 40 million Lose a Leader in 1999
During his presidency, Nelson Mandela made national reconciliation his primary task while striving for a united, mutually respectful, culturally diverse nation. He led from the frontlines, ensuring his cabinet fairly represented the whole population of South Africa. During his tenure he oversaw the formation of a Truth and Reconciliation commission chaired by Desmond Tutu, which was tasked with investigating all crimes committed by the ANC and the government during the apartheid era. Under Mandela’s presidency, the amount of money spent on welfare increased considerably, his government introduced free healthcare for pregnant women and children under the age of six in 1994 – further extended to everyone who used public sector health facilities at the primary level in 1996. By the time Mandela called it a day in 1999, the government had 3 million people newly connected to telephone lines, 1.5 million children had been enrolled into schools, 750,000 houses had been constructed whereas access to water had been made possible to 3 million people. He also bought parity in grants and payments such as child maintenance, old age pension, and disability grants. The wide-ranging societal effects of Mandela’s term in presidency impacted the entire population of South Africa – not to mention the positive impact on civil and human rights internationally – and at the time Mandela retired, his term was celebrated and his loss felt by the country’s 40 million citizens.
3. Over 1 billion Viewers Honour Mandela’s Nobel Prize in 1993
In 1993, Nelson Mandela and President de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts in ending apartheid in South Africa. The public were united in their appreciation of Mandela’s prize, though some factions expressed dissatisfaction on de Klerk’s sharing the prize. Mandela, in his trademark humble and benevolent manner, rebuked the naysayers. He stated that if the peace prize was only to be given to friends and peaceful neighbours then it would lose meaning. Mandela acknowledged that with all the deep-rooted inequality apartheid had perpetuated, de Klerk had the guts to do what previous leaders couldn’t. Mandela acknowledged that de Klerk’s courage as a leader played an important part in ending apartheid. Wisely, he mentioned that history would be the true judge of who was worthy of the prize; in this, the week of Mandela’s death, history has judged – and the leader has been found more than worthy of the accolade.
2. 2.38 billion Sports Fans Are Unified In 1995
Sports are imbued with historical, political and social significance and no sporting event demonstrates this as well as the Rugby World Cup of 1995. It was a year into Mandela’s presidency when the Republic of South Africa was to host the Rugby World Cup. Historical biases meant the sport was chiefly played by the white community. There was, therefore, a fear that the majority of South Africans would feel sidelined – resulting in a potential large-scale sabotage of the event with the world watching. President Mandela saw this not as a crisis but as an opportunity to bring his people together. He campaigned for the two disparate communities to come together in the name of sports, to make their mark on the world of rugby. When Mandela talked the public listened, and slowly but surely more member of the black community were learning the rules of the game and playing rugby. During the world cup in ’95, the stadiums were filled to capacity with revellers while white and black South Africans were pictured hugging one another and cheering their team to victory. During the epic final match between South Africa and New Zealand, Mandela was in the stadium, wearing the Springboks captain no 6 jersey belonging to Francois Pienaar who was an Afrikaner. When Mandela presented the trophy to Pienaar, an estimated 2.5 billion viewers worldwide bore witness to a moment that’s now recognized as a poignant symbol of Mandela’s peacemaking mission.
1. 7 Billion : The World’s Population Listens as Mandela Renounces Violence
Without over-stating the matter, Mandela’s choice to turn away from violence and towards political reform was a revolutionary move which secured his international influence as a Peace Keeper. By the time Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990, he had made a decision that would change the course of his political career. Then-president of South Africa, Fredrick de Klerk was wary of the path Mandela would take; Mandela’s imminent release evoked strong feelings among South Africans, who had campaigned for his freedom for years. At the time of his release, then, Mandela was in an undeniable position of power over millions of South African citizens. In his speech, on the day of his release on the 11th of February 1990, he stated that even though the ANC armed struggle was not over, his main focus would be to bring back peace to the black majority. He would empower his people through democracy rather than violence, and would campaign to give them the right to vote in both national and local elections. He preached forgiveness and insisted that South Africa was big enough for both the black and white communities.
This decision to forge a political path to peace saw negotiations to end apartheid, the signing of the Groot Schuur Minute where the government lifted the imposed state of emergency, and Pretoria Minute when Mandela offered a ceasefire. The path from violence to politics and democracy marks Mandela as an international hero, and won him a place in the hearts of the world’s populace.
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