A TRIBUTE TO NELSON ROLIHLAHLA MANDELA

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The struggle or resistance against apartheid is often identified with the name of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela and the Zulu word Amandle, meaning "not under the control of another, having liberty, unburdened by obligations, debts, or discomforts."

Nelson Mandela was born on July 18, 1918 at Qunu, the capital village of the Transkei "reserve" in the eastern cape province of South Africa.  His parents, Henry Gadla and Nonqaphi Mandela, describe as both intelligent and ambitious people, instilled in their son the love of country, a sense of justice and fairness, a strong disposition to courage, an inclination to sincerity in his dealings with others, a strong sense of loyalty both to his country and people and an adherence to custom and tradition.

His early childhood was spent in the kraal (village) under the tutelage of his parents, other relatives, and the elders of the village from whom he learned about the history and culture of his people in stories told by them about life in pre-colonial times.  He learned about the encounter of some of the various ethnic groups with the Dutch and later on the English who came to the land that later on became the Union of South Africa and eventually the Republic of South Africa. Among these tales was the fairly peaceful interaction with people along the southern coast of southern Africa that came to be used as a route to India by the Dutch East Indian Company.  The people known as the KhoiKhoi (Namakhoi) were hospitable to the Calvanistic Dutch farmers (Boers) who took refuge from the religious struggles in the Netherlands.  Mandela particularly took pride in the narratives of the elders about the exploits of the Zulus and other tribes men, but especially of Shaka the great Zulu leader who mobilized his people to resist the encroachment of the English on their land. These exploits included episodes of the defeat of the English in a number of occasions.  This influence played an important role in Mandela's fierce determination to work for change in his native South Africa.

His early education at the Wesleyan mission school served to strengthen Mandela's determination to right the wrongs of history. The school's primary textbooks portrayed Europeans in a positive light while painting a picture of blacks, particularly members of Mandela's ethnic group Xhosa, as ruthless savages.   Also, in 1930, his dying father sensing his only son's extraordinary potential to aid his country turned him over to the Paramount Chief of Thembu, David Dalindyebo. This event appears to have been prophetic as his association with the chief validated Mandela's perception of his own history as well as enhanced his perception of what could be accomplished in operating from a position of power. Even at this early stage, Mandela, was already moving toward a life of committed activism.

At the age of sixteen he experienced the ritual initiation of manhood while studying at Clarkebury, a teacher training college. In 1938, Mandela received a scholarship to study at Fort Hare College, the only black college at the time that accepted black South Africans as students. The school had a reputation for educating potential leaders not only of South Africa but also of East and Central Africa. During this time white agitation against the presence of blacks among them was very pronounced.  This development fired Mandela's nationalism and strengthen his activism.  At school a developing friendship with Oliver Tambo was interrupted when Mandela, a member of the Student's representative Council, joined a boycott protesting the reduction of the body's powers by authorities.  He was suspended.

This event marks the only time in Mandela's life when he may have been persuaded to compromise his principles. His foster father almost convinced him to abandon the boycott so that he would be permitted to return to school and complete his education.  Fortunately, fate intervened so that he did not have to follow this advice. While still at school, a traditional marriage was arranged his guardian which Mandela found to be inappropriate at that time, forcing him to move to Johannesburg as a way of avoiding the arranged marriage. 

In Johannesburg during 1941, Mandela's political education began in earnest.  The glaring economic and civil disparities between whites and blacks were everywhere; prosperous white suburbs, teeming black slums, intact white families, disintegrating black families; security and freedom of movement for whites, anxiety/insecurity/restriction of movement/constant harassment and intimidation for blacks. Mere survival in this urban world became Mandela's immediate concern.  His first job as a police officer in the gold mines was short lived when his guardian the Paramount Chief tracked him down. He fled again, this time to Alexandria, a township on the northeastern edge of Johannesburg.  Here he met Walter Sisulu, a man who would play a significant role in his life.  Sisulu employed Mandela in his real estate agency and provided the financial means that enabled Mandela to complete his B.A. degree in law.

After graduation, Sisulu introduced Mandela to a firm of white lawyers where he worked while studying law part-time at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.  At the firm Mandela was directly exposed to the prejudice and ignorance of whites.  He discovered that his method of coping with such situations was one of humor and anger.  Mandela also experienced many hardships while trying to finish his education in law.  These included inadequate study facilities, long commutes by train, and the restrictive eleven o'clock curfew.  One of the lawyers in the firm encouraged him in his educational pursuits but attempted to discourage him from politics.  Mandela accepted the encouragement but ignored the discouragement.  He was beginning to envision himself in the larger sense as an African nationalist.

Mandela was attracted to the African National Congress (ANC), the party, to which Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu, two of his closest friends, already belonged.  In 1941, he formally joined the ANC; and in 1943 he and Sisulu undertook what proved to be an historic step when they formed the Youth League of the ANC.  The Youth League had specific objectives: to push for the recognition of the ANC as the symbol and embodiment of the African's will to present a united front against oppression, to strive for true democracy, to reject foreign leadership and ideologies, and to recognize the Youth League as the brain-trust and power-station of the spirit of African nationalism.

In 1946, Mandela joined forces with South African Indians to address their common grievances.  It was in South Africa that Mahatma Ghandi himself began the movement for recognition of Indian equality in the 1940s.  Mandela realized that Africans and Indians had a common plight and the organization of a united front would be more effective in the struggle for social, political, and economic justice.  His lifelong commitment to the defeat of white domination and government repression of African leadership had its genesis during these early days. 

Ironically, in 1948, apartheid was institutionalized when the White National Party won an election based on its platform of segregation under the leadership of Daniel F. Milan.  The subsequent passage of numerous laws restricted the freedom of black South Africans even more.  These measures ranged from educational and housing segregation to the regulation of employment.

The Youth League took immediate action to address the situation.  Mandela and Sisulu, both now members of the ANC national executive body, decided to initiate a program of action.  Boycotts, strikes, civil disobedience and noncooperation were launched.  In addition, a "national stoppage of work" was planned for May Day 1950. However, before the Youth program was launched, there was a strike in Johannesburg organized by the Indian Congress and the Transvaal ANC.  The ANC accommodated all opposition groups, including the Communist party.

At the end of 1950 Mandela assumed a greater leadership role when he was elected President of the National Youth League.  A strategy of passive, nonviolent resistance to the government's unjust laws and actions was implemented.  It was becoming evident, however, that this strategy was losing its appeal to the masses of Africans who bore the brunt of the punitive measures taken against them.  Mandela, too, was soon to face this reality.

A violation of the eleven o'clock curfew brought him into direct confrontation with the government.  He was arrested and jailed.  This experience left an indelible mark on him as he was able to see for himself the harsh realities of prison life.  His arrest appeared to have galvanized grassroots support for the movement. Upon his release he observed that the campaign had spread like wild fire as people from all segments of the society—–doctors, teachers, students, workers, and others—-had become involved.  Concomitantly, government violence against the movement escalated.  The government organized a propaganda campaign aimed at silencing the people's voice. 

In 1952, Mandela who was elected Deputy President of the ANC continued his uncompromising stance against the government.  Before this, Mandela had traveled widely throughout South Africa soliciting support for the campaign.  In an effort to curtail his actions, the government confined him to Johannesburg for six months and prohibited his attending public meetings.   These early attempts to muscle him failed woefully.  When the ban was lifted, Mandela resumed his activities.  Subsequently, in 1958 he and others were arrested and charged with treason but later released by the court for lack of sufficient evidence.

In 1960, after the Sharpeville massacre, in which a large number of black South Africans were killed by security in a suburban township in Johannesburg, It became clear that the government was unwilling to include Africans in the government.   Thus, Mandela and the ANC embarked upon a course of armed struggle similar to other movements in Africa such as had erupted in Kenya, Angola, and Mozambique, with the goal of forcing the government to relinquish its stranglehold on the indigenous population.  He continued his travels to countries abroad in an effort to garner support.  In 1962, after returning from a visit to several African states he was arrested again.  Sisulu and other party members were also arrested and charged with sabotage.  They were incarcerated on Robben's Island, a place that had been designated as a prison for black men.  This facility would later gain international infamy as Mandela's prison for almost three decades.  It would also become the symbol of black South Africans' struggle against apartheid.

Although Mandela was already widely recognized as one of the prominent leaders of the struggle, his trial at the Pretoria Supreme Court further contributed to his stature as the struggle's premier leader.  Mandela's statement prior to the pronouncement of his sentence summarized his lifelong commitment: "During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to the struggle of African people. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society…it is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve.  But, if need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

Prison did not alter Mandela's role within the ANC.  The party still recognized him as its leader despite his imprisonment.  It continued to stage demonstrations involving a broad cross-section of the population, including women, children, and the elderly.  For example, the children's demand for the right to be educated in their native languages resulted in the infamous Soweto riots and massacres of 1976. The current celebration of National Youth Day is a remembrance of those killed during these riots.  During the 1980s, the white government often offered him his freedom in return for denouncing the ANC's armed struggle. He refused, stating "I am not prepared to sell the birthright of the people to be free…. Their freedom and mine cannot be separated, I will return."

Ultimately, Mandela was released in February, 1990.  He emerges from prison a more thoughtful and compassionate man.  A man still strongly devoted to the principles of fairness and justice, yet a changed man.  A principled leader ready for a compromise that recognized that the fate of blacks, of whites, and of Indians in South Africa are inextricably bound together; that they must therefore build a colorless nation of South Africa or risk being destroyed by intransigence. Mandela had developed a philosophy of forgiveness, truth and reconciliation which he used as a compass in the negotiations that followed his release.  His moral stature had waxed during his twenty seven (27) years of imprisonment.  He had chosen the path of gradual reform rather than compulsive revolution.

There are those among his followers who doubted the wisdom of such a choice but he remained constant. Negotiations began for the liberation of his people. He worked for the peaceful transition of his society. The negotiations culminated in the elections of 1994 in which Mandela was elected president. With the victory of the ANC, the transition to majority rule was initiated.  The philosophy of inclusion of blacks, Indians, coloreds, and whites in the government and economy replaced the policies of apartheid. As the first president of a non-apartheid South Africa, he showed great discipline in the discharge of his duties, stressing forgiveness and reconciliation. Mandela's government outlawed discrimination in employment, and placed women in government positions. The new government attacked socioeconomic ills by providing free medical care and subsidies for education.  New legislation recognized private property as an inalienable right except in cases of just and equitable compensation for the expropriation of land for public use. The formerly all-black homelands-Bantustands, initially organized to concentrate populations by ethnicity, was integrated into provinces of the republic.  The government under Mandela's leadership underwrote the creation of jobs, the construction of housing, and the subsidizing of black-owned businesses, all aimed at energizing the economy. Mandela did not seek re-election in 1999.  He retired to private life until his death in December 5, 2013. He was married to three women at different times: Evelyn Mase (1944-1958), Winnie Madikizela Mandela (1958 – 1996) and Graca Mochel (1998 – 2013)

The world mourns the passing of a great man, a hero of unparalleled endurance, patience, devotion to fairness and justice, a man of rigorous discipline, and unyielding fighter for freedom.

The leaders of hundred (100) nations turned up to bid farewell to the man whose life journey began many years ago and ended ninety five (95) years later.  The number of dignitaries and common people who turned up to  pay homage to this exemplary statesman is testimony to the extensive influence he had on people far beyond his native South Africa where he is reverently called MADIBA, (more than a surname–used as a sign of respect and affection)

Mandela has bequeath a great legacy to his compatriots in South Africa, and to the rest of the people of Africa, a legacy that calls for emulation.

South Africa of all shades should take pride in this man and his legacy.  The people of Africa have an obligation to embrace his legacy by following his footsteps.

They must nurture the virtues of discipline, honesty, sincerity, dependability, integrity, perseverance, steadfastness, justice, fairness, compassion and, above all, a willingness to sacrifice for the good of others no matter what the challenges are. These were the virtues that characterized the life of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.  May His Soul Rest in Perfect Peace! 

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