Rabble-rouser, Hero, President, Saviour. The Life of Mandela
Lifestyle Aug 01, 2018
He was born in a dusty village, surrounded by sparse shrubs with arid lands nearby. The day of his birth, 18 July 1918, saw men in biplanes – simple double-winged aircraft – spitting fire at each other over the skies of Europe, half a world away. A world in the grip of a frightening pandemic, later called the Spanish Flu. A world that became a new order after the fall of empires in World War I.
In his youth, he spent many nights by the fire, listening avidly as the elders recounted tales of heroism by his ancestors. Brave men and women who fought the encroachment of the colonialist. He was inspired by these stories, which gifted him with a fervour for fighting injustice. Shaped by legends of the past, he would later take on the mantle of legend himself.
Despite oppressive laws and the marginalism of indigenous people in their own land, Mandela studied, and managed to get articles at a prestigious law firm. Later he completed his Bachelor of Arts and finally graduated in 1943.
During the 1940s and ‘50s, he helped build the youth wing of the ANC, instilling in it a radicalism that burned in the hearts of many oppressed peoples. By this time, there were many unjust Apartheid laws designed to both segregate society along racial lines and to marginalise black people to the fringes of the economy.
He led the Defiance Campaign, which brought him to the attention of the Nationalist government. His role in the Armed Struggle, specifically helping establish Umkhonto weSizwe (Spear of the Nation) resulted in his arrest and to the infamous Rivonia Trial. Mandela bravely faced the death penalty hanging over him with his most famous words:
“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. 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.”
CAPTION: Washington, DC. USA, 4th October, 1994 President Nelson Mandela of South Africa delivers his speech during arrival ceremonies on the South Lawn at the White House. CREDIT: Mark Reinstein / Shutterstock.com
And with that, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. Over quarter of a century later, he finally walked free. The Nationalist government had been forced to the negotiating table by a world no longer able to tolerate Apartheid.
Mandela astounded everyone by promoting reconciliation amongst South Africa’s peoples, in an attempt to unite us all under one flag, one country. He bared no ill-will towards those who oppressed him, and was able to lead this unsettled land into a new dawn. He was our first democratically elected president, but politics didn’t taint him.
Madiba never desired power for anything more than doing good; when he felt his time had passed, he passed on the baton to his deputy, Thabo Mbeki. But even though he officially retired, he was far from done with public life. Continuing to represent the country, it could be argued he did even more for us diplomatically then he did during his tenure as president.
And his contributions to AIDS organisations and to protecting children’s rights, through his Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, are legendary. Indeed, he has continuously spoken out against human rights abuses and speaking truth-to-power.
Now, this year is his 100th birthday. On the 18 July, South Africans, and people around the world, will be celebrating it by spending 67 minutes doing selfless acts for others. Whether it’s painting the walls of a disabled neighbour’s house, visiting the residents of an old-age home, playing with children at an orphanage, or working in a soup kitchen for the homeless, many will be honouring Madiba by replicating his kindness.
A kindness that reverberates forever in our history.