current affairs

Reflections on the legacy of Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela, the man who inspired so many through his fight and forgiveness has died at the age of 95.

Nelson Mandela, the man who inspired so many through his fight and forgiveness has died at the age of 95.

A man who so many labelled as hero, an inspiration and a symbol of freedom is now at peace.

His life, from freedom fighter to world leader is a story that no one can truly understand, a man who made sacrifices for the good of his country and for the good of the globe.

Born in Transkei on 18th July 1918, he became a man that would lead a country into a new chapter like no other.  He suffered racial discrimination throughout his youth, including at the University of Witwatersrand before he joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1944 and had a hand in establishing its youth league. This is where the birth of the ANC as mass political movement began but four years later with the election of the first National Party Government racial segregation became law.

The pinnacle

This meant that the colour of your skin was your identity, mixed marriages were outlawed and different racial groups forced to live in specified areas similar to what was seen in America.  This spurred Mandela on and despite a banning order stopping him from addressing the public and leaving Johannesburg, the ANC grew in strength.  

In 1955 came a pinnacle moment in Mandela’s fight for freedom as he took a key role in producing the ANCs Freedom Charter which stated that South Africa was neither black nor white but belonged to ‘all who live in it and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of all the people.’

A year later Mandela was arrested along with 156 other political activists resulting in most of the ANC’s leadership being taken from the streets, all were acquitted however after a four-year trial.  This was though the tip of the iceberg and tensions were to rise like nothing seen before as the National Party banned the ANC days after authorities killed 69 people in what become known as the Sharpeville Massacre.  

Those that died were protesting along with hundreds of others against the 1958 Pass Laws which restricted the movement of anyone that was black – his arrest quickly followed the massacre.

Enemy of the state

After being detained and denied trial, Mandela spoke of turning to the option of armed revolution which when faced with a government unwilling to negotiate or listen fairly, was to many and Mandela himself, the only option left.

 In the next few years Mandela took control of what was basically a terrorist front, attacking government posts through an underground network although the ANC had advocated the actions of the Umkhonto we Sizwe.

Mandela became an enemy of the state and after going on the run was eventually apprehended in 1962 and sentenced to five years in jail. However two years later he was granted a life sentence after his famous speech from the court dock where he spoke of his willingness to die for equality.  Mandela was sent to Robben Island and told that he would spend the rest of his life behind bars broken by hard manual labour and nothing but four walls to look at.

The road to the presidency

But Mandela refused to be broken, his spirit remained and so did the supressed anger of the black people of South Africa who still wanted and needed change from a brutal and racist government. Movements and demonstrations were quiet through the 1970s but the death of Anti-Apartheid campaigner Steve Biko at the hands of the police, rekindled the interest in Mandela and in 1980 the Free Nelson Mandela campaign was launched.

The campaign lasted ten years, peaking in the later 80s as the world called for Mandela’s release.  The South African government which by the time a 70th birthday tribute celebration was held at Wembley stadium for Mandela in June 1988, was starting to lose control of the country had no choice but to start talking about his release.

It took a further two years but on 11th February 1990, Nelson Mandela walked free from jail.

He walked hand in hand with his then wife Winnie down the street surrounded by hundreds of jubilant people, a truly special moment.  Mandela refused to denounce violence and warned that the ANC, which had now be re-legalised would continue to defend itself against the violent South African government until they agreed to peace and to a nation where both white and black were equal.

Calls for peace continued and in 1994, the unthinkable happened.  The ANC participated in the country’s first free elections and Mandela ran out a clear winner to become President of South Africa and was sworn in on 10th May 1994.

He only remained for five years giving up his position in 1999 to Thabo Mbeki takes but by then his work had long been done.  He retired from public life in July 2001 but his legacy by that point has already been laid –in his fight for equality he inspired an entire globe, the only man to become a world leader in the true sense of the word.

Mandela had been ill for the last year and his death was only a matter of a time but despite the time to prepare for the inevitable the world has reacted in the way that one would expect, remembering a man who inspired, motivated and became a symbol of freedom and will continue to be one for generations to come.

A man who never saw himself as powerful or above anyone else, but a man who believed that everyone is equal and should have the same start in life regardless of skin colour: a man who stood up for what he believed and what was right.  

A leader of people and a definition of forgiveness.

Mandela had lost the best years of his life—he could have sought revenge for 27 years of incarceration.  Instead he set out to establish peace when many would have only had retaliation on their minds; he taught people the true meaning of forgiveness.

And finally, he was a true man of democracy. It was not about power but the right to vote freely and voice your opinions regardless of your skin colour – it was his dream to see his country set free and on the night of the 1994 general election, he achieved that dream: the country’s dream.

It was never about him, he was a selfless man: it was about his people and his country.

There is sadness but it’s overwhelmed by the celebration on the streets of a great man’s life that changed this planet for the better. 

Have your say on the legacy of Mandela in the comments section below.