Nelson Mandela just died. The former South African dissident, revolutionary, and then post-apartheid president was 95.
So much has been written about Nelson Mandel, and is being written today, that I’ll excerpt some of the best, most informative, things from around the Web.
Mandela served 27 years in prison
First some background from Wikipedia:
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (Xhosa pronunciation: [xoˈliːɬaɬa manˈdeːla]) (18 July 1918 – 5 December 2013) was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary and politician who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He was the first black South African to hold the office, and the first elected in a fully representative, multiracial election.
Living in Johannesburg, he became involved in anti-colonial politics, joining the ANC and becoming a founding member of its Youth League. After the Afrikaner nationalists of the National Party came to power in 1948 and began implementing the policy of apartheid, he rose to prominence in the ANC’s 1952 Defiance Campaign, was elected President of the Transvaal ANC Branch and oversaw the 1955 Congress of the People. Working as a lawyer, he was repeatedly arrested for seditious activities and, with the ANC leadership, was prosecuted in the Treason Trial from 1956 to 1961 but was found not guilty. Although initially committed to non-violent protest, in association with the South African Communist Party he co-founded the militant Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) in 1961, leading a bombing campaign against government targets. In 1962 he was arrested, convicted of sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government, and sentenced to life imprisonment in the Rivonia Trial.
Mandela served 27 years in prison, first on Robben Island, and later in Pollsmoor Prison and Victor Verster Prison. An international campaign lobbied for his release, which was granted in 1990 amid escalating civil strife.
“Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father.”
South African President Jacob Zuma, via CNN:
“He is now resting. He is now at peace,” Zuma said. “Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father.”
“What made Nelson Mandela great was precisely what made him human,” the president said in his late-night address. “We saw in him what we seek in ourselves.”
Mandela will have a state funeral. Zuma ordered all flags in the nation to be flown at half-staff from Friday through that funeral.
“We have, at last, achieved our political emancipation.”
Chicago Trib quotes Mandela’s acceptance speech:
“The time for the healing of the wounds has come. The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come,” Mandela said in his acceptance speech on becoming South Africa’s first black president in 1994.
“We have, at last, achieved our political emancipation.”
Mandela decided not to stand for reelection – a move almost unheard of among African leaders
The LAT notes that Mandela was one of the rare African leaders to actually step aside and not run for permanent re-election:
During his five-year term in office, Mandela’s formal dignity and his skill in building consensus made him a rarity on a continent beset by corrupt dictators. Although his strongest supporters were deeply distrustful of whites, who controlled much of the country’s economy, Mandela made a determined — and largely successful — effort to ease white fears.
As his term drew to a close, he decided not to stand for reelection in 1999 and voluntarily stepped aside — a move almost unheard of among African leaders. His party, the African National Congress, again won the national elections and chose Mandela’s vice president, Thabo Mbeki, as his successor.
After leaving the government, Mandela’s worldwide stature continued to grow. He became active in the fight against AIDS; a son died of the disease in 2005. He also traveled widely in support of human rights and efforts to end poverty and spoke out vehemently against the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. In 2004, at age 85, Mandela announced his retirement from public life.
A tribute to the struggle for freedom from all forms of discrimination
The New Yorker has Nelson Mandela on the cover next week:
Next week’s cover, “Madiba,” was drawn by the artist Kadir Nelson. “I’ve recently made a children’s book about Nelson Mandela, but for a New Yorker cover, I settled on a younger image of him during the time that he was on trial with over a hundred of his comrades,” says Nelson about “Madiba,” his oil painting of Nelson Mandela, who died today, at the age of ninety-five.
“From looking at the photos of the time, I could see that the energy around him was very strong and that his peers were very much with and behind him,” Nelson added. “He was clearly a leader. I wanted to make a simple and bold statement about Mandela and his life as a freedom fighter. The raised fist and the simple, stark palette reminded me of posters and anti-apartheid imagery of the nineteen-eighties. This painting is a tribute to the struggle for freedom from all forms of discrimination, and Nelson’s very prominent role as a leader in the anti-apartheid movement.”
Pres. Obama’s statement on Nelson Mandela’s death
Here’s President Obama’s statement on Mandela’s death:
At his trial in 1964, Nelson Mandela closed his statement from the dock saying, “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. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
And Nelson Mandela lived for that ideal, and he made it real. He achieved more than could be expected of any man. Today, he has gone home. And we have lost one of the most influential, courageous, and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth. He no longer belongs to us — he belongs to the ages.
Through his fierce dignity and unbending will to sacrifice his own freedom for the freedom of others, Madiba transformed South Africa — and moved all of us. His journey from a prisoner to a President embodied the promise that human beings — and countries — can change for the better. His commitment to transfer power and reconcile with those who jailed him set an example that all humanity should aspire to, whether in the lives of nations or our own personal lives. And the fact that he did it all with grace and good humor, and an ability to acknowledge his own imperfections, only makes the man that much more remarkable. As he once said, “I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”
I am one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from Nelson Mandela’s life. My very first political action, the first thing I ever did that involved an issue or a policy or politics, was a protest against apartheid. I studied his words and his writings. The day that he was released from prison gave me a sense of what human beings can do when they’re guided by their hopes and not by their fears. And like so many around the globe, I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example that Nelson Mandela set, and so long as I live I will do what I can to learn from him.
To Graça Machel and his family, Michelle and I extend our deepest sympathy and gratitude for sharing this extraordinary man with us. His life’s work meant long days away from those who loved him the most. And I only hope that the time spent with him these last few weeks brought peace and comfort to his family.
To the people of South Africa, we draw strength from the example of renewal, and reconciliation, and resilience that you made real. A free South Africa at peace with itself — that’s an example to the world, and that’s Madiba’s legacy to the nation he loved.
We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. So it falls to us as best we can to forward the example that he set: to make decisions guided not by hate, but by love; to never discount the difference that one person can make; to strive for a future that is worthy of his sacrifice.
For now, let us pause and give thanks for the fact that Nelson Mandela lived — a man who took history in his hands, and bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice. May God Bless his memory and keep him in peace.
Music inspired by Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela also inspired a lot of music, including the song “Free Nelson Mandela,” by The Specials:
Also there’s the song “Nelson Mandela” by internationally renowned Senegalse singer Youssou N’Dour:
Peter Rothberg over at the Nation has more songs, if you’re interested.