Nelson Mandela: His Legacy Lives on

Megan R.

Staff Writer

Thursday, December 5th, Nelson Mandela, a world renowned symbol of peace, passed away at the age of 95. The world mourns this loss and reflects on the impact he has made. This man is credited with a great deal of reform in South Africa, mainly ending apartheid. Since childhood Mandela fought the bounds of his world, in hopes of a better future.

On July 18, 1918, Rolihlahla (which means troublemaker) Mandela was born into the Madiba clan in the small village of Transkei in South Africa. His father was the principal counselor for the king of this tribe. As a child, Mandela attended Healdton Methodist Boarding School. He enrolled at Fort Hare University in 1939 but was eventually expelled for involvement in a student protest. Here he met his lifelong friend and partner Oliver Tambo. He left his small village for Johannesburg and worked odd jobs for several years.

At age 25, Mandela joined with Walter Sisulu and Tambo to create the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League.  The ANC was formed in 1912 as peaceful opposition group against the white government. The Youth League spearheaded efforts by protesting, striking, and taking action against the current South African government. During this time Mandela also married his first wife, Evelyn Mase, with whom he had three children. Mandela continued nonviolent protests for twenty years.

In 1956, Mandela, along with 150 others, was arrested and put on trial for attempting to overthrow the government. Although they were acquitted, Mandela began to doubt the effectiveness of peaceful tactics. In 1961 Mandela co-founded the MK, a guerilla group dedicated to ending apartheid. This same year he organized a three day worker strike that led to his arrest.  Mandela was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison.

Just a few years later Mandela was put on trial again, with ten other ANC leaders, for political offenses and sabotage. This is known as the Rivonia Trial and is best remembered for Mandela’s four hour speech, which replaced his testimony in the hearing. “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.” These were some of Mandela’s final words before his sentence was extended to almost three decades. Mandela served the next eighteen years of his sentence in Robben Island prison where he finally earned his law degree through correspondence with the University of London. During his time in prison, Mandela became a symbol of South African struggle and oppression to the entire world. Twenty years after his conviction, President PW Botha offered Mandela his freedom if he would reject the use of violence. Mandela refused, claiming that the use of violence was a last resort for the ANC.

In 1990 President Botha was replaced by FW deKlerk. In February of 1990, deKlerk ordered the release of Mandela and removed the ban on the ANC. Immediately after his release, Mandela told foreign powers that the ANC would not stop their violent efforts until black South Africans had the right to vote. With Mandela as president and Tambo as national chairperson, the two headed the ANC’s fight for racial equality. They continued negotiating with deKlerk while South Africa erupted in violence.

In 1993 deKlerk and Mandela jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts in South Africa. On April 27th, 1994, South Africa held its first multiracial democratic election. Mandela won this election by a landslide. During his presidency, Mandela worked to encourage reconciliation between black and white groups. The 2009 movie Invictus, starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon, portrays Mandela’s use of the Rugby World Cup to bring the country together. He encouraged the black population to support South Africa’s white rugby team, who ended up winning the cup. “I think he was a great leader for South Africa because he focused on reconciliation and not retribution between the blacks and whites. When the blacks got the right to vote, they could have used it to retaliate, but they did not,” says Coach Josh Sailers, social studies teacher and lacrosse coach. He also signed a new constitution which favored a strong central government and guaranteed freedom of expression.

After his political career ended in 1999, Mandela continued to improve South Africa by funding projects in small villages similar to his birthplace. Eight years later Mandela invited leaders from around the world to discuss and solve major humanitarian issues. Graca Machel, Desmond Tutu, Kofi Annan, Ela Bhatt, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Jimmy Carter, Li Zhaoxing, Mary Robinson and Muhammad Yunus were among those in attendance. Around this time, Mandela returned to his hometown of Qunu, just outside of Johannesburg.

In 2011 Mandela was hospitalized for a lung infection. He would spend the last three years of his life in and out of the hospital. On December 5th, 2013, Mandela passed away at the age of 95. The Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory website reported, “Mr. Mandela gave 67 years of his life fighting for the rights of humanity.” Yet Mandela’s journey to end apartheid was not without difficulty. He did some of his best work against apartheid while behind bars and did not become president until he was 77 years old. Besides symbolizing peace and ending apartheid, Mandela was proof that no one is ever too old, poor, or incapable of changing the world.

The death of this iconic leader filled the news for almost a week; obituaries were released from new stations across the globe. “I learned about his upbringing. I found it fascinating that he grew up in the tribe and the role that played in his education. It also made me reflect on just how long twenty seven years is…..that’s a long time to be in prison. He never felt pity for himself during those twenty seven years though. He grew to show no emotions. He wouldn’t give the guards the satisfaction of seeing his pain,” observed Coach Sailers. Although Mandela is gone, his legacy has made him immortal. Within five days of his death, there is evidence of this. At his memorial service December 10th hundreds of major political figures, from the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to Prince Charles and Pope Francis, were seen conversing together while honoring this great man. “It was amazing to see so many people with such opposing views getting along together in one place,” says Haley Huckaby, junior. Mandela brought unlikely leaders together in his final act for peace.

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