Death of a Giant: Nelson Mandela

International NewspapersThe formal announcement by Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa, of Nelson Mandela’s death at his home in Johannesburg on 5 December 2013 has left the world in mourning. He said of the elderly statesman … our nation has lost its great son … and a father of the people. He announced there would be a full state funeral and flags would be flown at half-mast. Following the ceremony he will lie in state before burial by his family.
Tributes from world leaders and others have poured in to honour this man of the people who struggled to free his country from the evil yoke of the apartheid regime and will forever be a potent symbol of his humanity and willingness to forgive and seek reconciliation for all. The greatest father there ever was is how South Africans will remember the man who brought an end to apartheid and delivered the nation from the brink of civil war.
Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)
Born on 18 July 1918 in Transkei, South Africa, his father was Chief Henry Mandela of the Tembu Tribe. Nelson (Rolihlahla) Mandela studied law and qualified in 1942. Affectionately known by his tribal name Madiba, he practised law in Johannesburg and was active in the banned African National Congress (ANC).
He was in and out of prison and also confined to house arrest. He was found not guilty of treason in 1961 but was re-tried 1963-64 and sentenced to life imprisonment. He was incarcerated at Robben Island, a small island near Capetown, used for the detention of political prisoners and subsequently on the mainland, until his release in 1990 by then State President, Willem de Klerk.
He became a potent and enduring symbol of resistance as the anti-apartheid movement gathered strength at home and abroad while consistently refusing to compromise his political position to obtain his freedom. Upon his release on 11 February 1990 he plunged himself into his life’s work. He was elected President of the ANC while his life long friend Oliver Tambo (1917-93) became the Organisation’s National Chairperson. As leader of the ANC Nelson Mandela engaged in talks on the introduction of majority rule that led to the first democratic elections. It gave a franchise to the voiceless millions to exercise their vote.
Nelson Mandela shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 with Willem de Klerk … “for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa”. This liberator of people became South Africa’s first democratically elected black President from 1994-99. The iconic statesman came to be revered by many world leaders as inspiration for his great humility and unique humanitarian qualities. He received prestigious awards in recognition of his life time work.
In 2010 the Nelson Mandela Foundation said South Africa’s 92 year old former President wanted to enjoy his retirement following a life time of public service. In the same year one of his last public appearances was at the FIFA World Cup hosted by South Africa selected amongst competing African nations. His support and celebratory appearances at the opening and closing events will be remembered by organisers, players and ecstatic football supporters with satellite images that were beamed to millions around the world.
Ita Marguet, December 2013
Note : Acknowledgement is given to sources used in this text. It follows articles titled Tribute to a Great Man : Nelson Mandela (September 2007) and Father of the Nation : Nelson Mandela Day (July 2010) by Ita Marguet.