Africa mourns one of its greatest leaders Nelson Mandela whose death at the age of 95 leaves a legacy that will be carried for generations to come. Nelson was an inspiration behind the struggle for independence in most countries of the continent. He was a notable statesman, and a personal hero to many, including America’s first black president, Barack Obama.
Mandela – Childhood years
Mandela was born on 18th July 1918, to the Thembu Royal family. His father was Hendry Mphakanyiswa Gadla, was the chief of Mvezo village located on the banks of river Mbashe. The village is found in the Qunu area, Transkei, South Africa. At 7 years of age, Mandela was the first person in his clan to attend a formal school. In the school, he was named “Nelson” by his teacher.
Nel son was destined to be a trouble maker, and his native forename was Rolihlahla, which in their native tongue means “Trouble maker”. He was later said to state that his early childhood was full of custom taboo and ritual. Mandela’s father was a polygamist, who had four wives and he was the son of the third wife, Nosekeni Fanny, who was also a daughter of famous parents. Given his ancestry, it is no wonder that he began a journey that would lead him to the top office in South Africa.
Nelson can attribute his education to the faith of his mother. Although he knew nothing about Christianity, his mother was a devout follower of the faith, and she sent him to the local Methodist school at the age of seven. This is where he was baptized and given the name nelson by his teacher. Two years later, at the age of nine, he suffered a great loss when his father died of an undiagnosed disease, which he later believed was a lung infection. Many people in Africa believed that this disease could have been inherited since it was the cause of Mandela’s death. After his father’s death, Mandela, probably out of grief, became a hardliner, and people said that he had inherited the stubborn sense of fairness, and proud religiousness that were prominent in his father’s character. Here you see a young man, who was somehow cut out for the role that his life would hand down to him.
Mandela was taken to Chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo, who became his legal guardian. While here, he attended regular church services with the chief’s wife, and he became a devout Christian. His faith reinforced the beliefs that he had about people being equal, despite their race. Between the years 1936 and 1940, Nelson studied to become a legal professional at Clarkebury Boarding Institute, a school that was reserved for black Africans. It was at this school that he opened up to a social life, and he stopped being so proud. Here he had his first love affair, and started playing sports. He also gained a deep love for gardening, a feature that most felt was not manly. When he finished his course, and got a certificate in 1937, Nelson went to a Methodist college in Fort Beaufort, which was known as the finishing school for most Thembu Royalty. Although the school emphasized on English Culture and Government, Nelson was more interested in native African culture. It was at this college that he made friends with a person who was not of his tribe, a Sotho, and he cane to admire a teacher, who was a Xhosa like himself, who broke taboo and married a Sotho. Nelson was an athletic man, and participated in long distance running and boxing.
Mandela studied hard and learned English, Politics, Native Administration, Anthropology, and Roman Dutch Law. He studied these subjects at University of Fort Hare, an institution reserved for elite black students. It was at this college that Mandela became friends with Oliver Tambo, and K.D. Manatazime, both of whom would become integral personalities in the struggle for independence in South Africa. Even as he continued with his interest in sports, he took up ballroom dancing, and became a member of the drama society. Nelson, being a devout Christian, joined the Students Christian association, started giving bible lessons to the local community, and strongly supported the British effort in World War II. Mandela had a lot of friend in the African national Congress (ANC) but he tried not to get involved in the activities of the party. Mandela’s controversial attitude began to manifest when he founded a students’ House Committee, to challenge the unfair treatment by second years. At the end of his first year, he was at a boycott, organized by the Students’ Representative Council (SRC), and he was suspended for his involvement. Mandela left the university without getting a degree.
Mandela’s journey to Johannesburg was quite accidental, since he was running away from an arranged marriage. He arrived in 1941, and began working as a night watchman at Crown Mines. This was the first time that he got a true feeling of the capitalism movement in South Africa. When the headman found out that Mandela had run away from home, he arranged for him to be fired. It was at this time that he met, Walter Sisulu, e realtor and ANC activist. He became friend with many members of the ANC and soon he was attending their rallies and meetings. Mandela had a colorful life, where he tried to court a royal Swazi lady, but gave up due to his low financial status, returned home, before eventually studying to be a lawyer.
Nelson Mandela – The Prison Years
There was much about Mandela’s life that can be skimmed over, but his remarkable rise in the public’s eye, was at the time of his imprisonment. Mandela was initially arrested in 1962, together with Cecil Williams, and was jailed at Johannesburg’s Marshall Square prison. He was arrested for inciting a worker’s strike, and leaving the country unauthorized. He used the case as a platform where he began preaching about the ANC and its fight against racism. It was while in his cell, that he studied for his bachelor of Laws Degree from the University of London. During his trial, Mandela, being stubborn in nature, used the witness stand for political speech. He refused to call witnesses, and was always wearing his traditional Kaross. At the end of his trial, he was sentenced to 5 years in prison, and upon leaving the court, people outside started singing the famous song, Nkosi Sikeleli Afrika, which means God Bless Africa.
In 1963, police raided Liliesleaf Farm, and found documents that implicated Mandela in a plot to overthrow the government. During their subsequent trial, the prosecutor, Percy Yutar, tried to get them handed the death penalty, but the judge, Quartus de Wet, threw out the case on grounds of insufficient evidence. The prosecutor refilled the case and changed the charges, calling 173 witnesses and thousands of photos and documents in an effort to destroy Mandela. Mandela pleaded guilty to charges of sabotage, but he denied charges of planning to start a guerilla war in the country. During this trial, Mandela made political speeches, which soon drew international attention. The court found him guilty of on all charges, but instead of giving them the death sentence, it incarcerated them for life. After the trail he was incarcerated at Robben Island for the next 18 years. In 1982, he was moved to Pollsmoor prison, and in 1988, to Victor Verster prison, before his final release.
In May 1994, after negotiations with the Apartheid government, Mandela was elected president of South Africa. His inauguration was witnessed by millions of viewers, whom he had impressed, all over the world. The government of national unity was made up of an ANC majority, and Inkatha and National Party minority. Former President De Klerk became the first deputy president, and Thabo Mbeki, the second. Sources say that Mbeki was not Mandela’s first choice for the job, but a great working relationship grew, and Mandela relied heavily on Mbeki for policy drafting and organization of the ANC.
At the age of 76, Mandela started succumbing to illnesses, even if he still showed a lot of energy in his activities. Sources say that he felt lonely and abandoned, despite global fame. He entertained the cream of the global society, and even if he was a rich man, Mandela still embraced a simple life. He gave a third of his income to the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, which he began in 1995. Nelson Mandela was still concerned about the negative publicity that native Africans were getting from the media. Mandela was a man who would change clothes about three times a day, and would always don the batik shirts that were soon aptly named “Madiba shirts”.
The notable achievements of his presidency include the national reconciliation process, and beneficial domestic programs. He reached out to the majority of the population who could not even get proper sanitation, housing, electricity, etc, and started programs that would ensure that these services were provided. He increased welfare spending, and introduced grants such as the disability grants, child maintenance grants, and old-age pensions. All children under 6-years-old, and pregnant women got free health care services by 1994. By 1999, 3 million people had access to phones in their homes, 2 million people were supplied with electricity, 750,000 houses were built, and 3 million people got piped water. However, the greatest domestic problem that the government failed to solve was that of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the country. Mandela, regrettable admitted that he had personally ignored the issue, leaving it to Mbeki to address. His government was also criticized for failing to fight crime, which had spiraled upwards in the country. Mandela was also criticized for his personal friendship with controversial leaders like Muamar Gaddafi and Fidel Castro.
Mandela in retirement
In 1997, Mandela stepped down for Mbeki, as the president of the ANC. He is stated to have said that Mbeki had already become a de facto president of the country. In the early years of his retirement, Mandela became more engrossed in the fight against HIV/AIDS. He called the scourge a “war” that had killed more South Africans than”other wars”. He slowly started retreating from public life, although he met with friends and family on several occasions. He was involved in international affairs as an African statesman.
In 2001, he underwent a prostate surgery successfully. In June 2004, he was admitted to hospital for a respiratory infection and was later discharged. One should remember that his father died of the same respiratory infection. On 8th June 2013, Mandela was back in hospital, with the same lung infection which had become worse. On the 22nd, doctors said that Mandela had not opened his eyes, and was not responding to treatment. Although the family wanted to seek ways to prolong his life, there were calls from close associates for the family to ‘set him free”. Mandela was on life support at the time. President Jacob Zuma was reported to have visited Mandela, and confirmed that his condition was critical. Dignitaries visited him, and there were whispers about him not making it out of the hospital. Nelson Mandela peacefully passed away on December 6, 2013 due to lung infection.
Nelson Mandela was a charming man, who had a very relaxed demeanor. One would never have said that this gentleman, who was always smiling, could have had such a difficult life. All over the world, he is famed for his perseverance in the fight for independence in South Africa. One could even compare him to Martin Luther King, during the fight against racialism in America. He is said to be a person who sees the best in everyone, including those who criticized him. Sources close to Mandela said that he would sometimes become depressed and dejected when away from public life, and that his temper would flare up at times. Mandela truly believed in democracy, and was ever speaking about it. He is known to have come out publicly, and criticized President Mugabe, of Zimbabwe, for his oppression of democracy in his country. He will be remembered as one the most notable leaders to come out of the African continent.
Nelson Mandela in Pictures