Nel­son Man­dela

July 18, 1918 – Dec 5, 2013

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By An­drew MAykuth

Man­dela, who de­voted his life to fight­ing South africa’s sys­tem of apartheid, be­came one of the 20th cen­tury’s most revered lead­ers af­ter be­ing re­leased from prison in 1990. He shared the no­bel Peace Prize in 1993 with F.W. de Klerk, the for­mer South african pres­i­dent who ne­go­ti­ated the white gov­ern­ment’s ab­di­ca­tion of power, re­sult­ing in Man­dela’s land­slide 1994 elec­tion at age 75 in the na­tion’s first non­ra­cial vote.

Man­dela be­came a mythic fig­ure dur­ing his 27 years in prison. When he fi­nally was freed, he was one of the rare he­roes who ac­tu­ally lived up to his leg­end.

“I knew as well as I knew any­thing that the op­pres­sor must be lib­er­ated just as surely as the op­pressed,” he wrote in his 1994 au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Long Walk To Free­dom.

With equa­nim­ity and wit, he dis­armed his ad­ver­saries. The na­tional Party gov­ern­ment re­leased him from prison as­sum­ing it would be able to ma­neu­ver him into a deal that would ef­fec­tively per­pet­u­ate white rule, but they were un­done by Man­dela’s per­se­ver­ance.

a shrewd and skill­ful politi­cian, Man­dela was one of the few black lead­ers who had the cred­i­bil­ity to bridge the gap be­tween rad­i­cals and mod­er­ates in the african na­tional Congress, the lib­er­a­tion move­ment that now gov­erns South africa.

His strength as a leader was his abil­ity to tone down mil­i­tant blacks who wanted to set­tle scores af­ter three and a quar­ter cen­turies of racial op­pres­sion and to re­as­sure ner­vous whites that they had a place in South africa’s fu­ture, thus pre­serv­ing the na­tion’s dy­namic econ­omy.

Gen­teel, dig­ni­fied and noble, Man­dela also had what one writer called a “puck­ish streak.” He was full of joie de vivre and would some­times break out into a spon­ta­neous slow-shoe dance that came to be known as the “Man­dela Jive.” He also could be stern and un­for­giv­ing to those who did not heed his or­ders.

af­fec­tion­ately known as “Madiba,” Man­dela was be­yond re­proach and was treated gen­tly by the South african news me­dia.

He did not smoke, he did not eat red meat and he sipped wine pub­licly only when it was help­ful for pro­mot­ing South africa’s vine­yards. He dis­dained busi­ness suits on all but state oc­ca­sions, opt­ing for col­or­ful print shirts that be­came his trade­mark.

He sac­ri­ficed his fam­ily life to the anti-apartheid strug­gle. He di­vorced his first wife be­cause she did not share his pas­sion for pol­i­tics. He spent the prime of his adult life in jail, los­ing touch with his chil­dren and grow­ing dis­tant from his sec­ond wife, Win­nie Man­dela. The cou­ple were di­vorced af­ter an em­bar­rass­ing pub­lic trial in 1996.

A prince and a lawyer

Man­dela grew up in a ru­ral South africa where he ac­cepted the supremacy of all things white. It was only af­ter he was politi­cized in the city by such rad­i­cals as Wal­ter Sisulu that he be­gan his trans­for­ma­tion to black lib­er­a­tor and icon.

He was born July 18, 1918, in Mvezo, a tiny vil­lage in South africa’s east­ern Cape. He was a prince at birth — the son of a chief of the Thembu tribe, part of the Xhosa na­tion.

In 1941, Man­dela was in­tro­duced to the anC, the lead­ing black na­tion­al­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion. Ob­tain­ing his law de­gree, he set up the first black law prac­tice in the city with part­ner Oliver Tambo, who would later be­come chair­man of the anC.

In 1944, he helped found the african na­tional Congress Youth league to prod the staid anC to cam­paign more ac­tively for an end to racial seg­re­ga­tion. eight years later, the 34-year-old Man­dela was charged with lead­ing the anC’s de­fi­ance Cam­paign against the pas­sage of stricter apartheid laws.

In the late 1950s, the gov­ern­ment made its first at­tempt to con­vict Man­dela and other anti-apartheid ac­tivists in what be­came known as the Trea­son Tri­als. Man­dela and his lawyers ridiculed the state’s clumsy at­tempts to trump up a trea­son charge, and they were ac­quit­ted.

In the 1960s, while europe granted in­de­pen­dence to its african colonies and a clamor for free­dom went up across the con­ti­nent, the white gov­ern­ment in South africa dug in its heels. The anti-apartheid move­ment went through a mon­u­men­tal change.

un­der-cover, in plain sight

af­ter the gov­ern­ment de­clared a state of emer­gency in 1961, Man­dela con­cluded that the anC had no choice but to re­sort to a cam­paign of sab­o­tage. He went un­der­ground and was named com­man­der in chief of the anC’s new guer­rilla army, Umkhonto we Sizwe, Spear of the na­tion. He re­ceived mil­i­tary train­ing in al­ge­ria.

For 17 months in the early 1960s, he dis­guised him­self as a chauf­feur or a gar­den boy and eluded po­lice.

The Man­dela leg­end be­gan to build. The anC set up its un­der­ground head­quar­ters on a farm in Rivo­nia, a Jo­han­nes­burg sub­urb.

On aug. 5, 1962, af­ter a trip to africa and europe to seek help train­ing the lib­er­a­tion army, Man­dela was driv­ing in natal Prov­ince when he was ar­rested and con­victed of in­cite­ment and sab­o­tage and sen­tenced to five years in prison.

He ended up spend­ing nearly three decades in jail. While he was serv­ing his sen­tence, the gov­ern­ment raided the farm­house in Rivo­nia and dis­cov­ered a bounty of ev­i­dence link­ing Man­dela to acts of sab­o­tage. This time, the gov­ern­ment was play­ing for keeps. Man­dela and other anC lead­ers were charged with trea­son.

at the Rivo­nia trial, Man­dela never de­nied the charges. He turned the de­fen­dant’s stand into a pul­pit and spent hours ex­plain­ing why he felt jus­tice com­pelled him to carry out such acts. His ora­tion was quoted by fol­low­ers for years to come.

The eight anC lead­ers got life sen­tences. at age 44, Man­dela and his com­pa­tri­ots were shipped off to Robben Is­land, a rocky out­crop off Cape Town.

Fi­nally free

Man­dela’s stature grew in prison, through the skill­ful pro­mo­tion by the ex­iled anC lead­er­ship.

The apartheid gov­ern­ment lead­ers, pet­ri­fied that he would die in jail and be­come more pow­er­ful as a mar­tyr, of­ten of­fered to re­lease Man­dela. But the gov­ern­ment’s of­fers al­ways car­ried con­di­tions — that Man­dela agree to re­nounce the armed strug­gle, or live un­der a form of house ar­rest. Man­dela’s de­fi­ant re­fusal merely added to his grow­ing world­wide leg­end.

In 1986, iso­lated from his fel­low pris­on­ers, Man­dela opened a line of com­mu­ni­ca­tions with the apartheid gov­ern­ment.

When Pres­i­dent P. W. Botha was ousted in a coup in 1989, Man­dela met Botha’s suc­ces­sor, de Klerk. He re­peated his de­mand: He would leave jail only when the gov­ern­ment rec­og­nized the anC and the Com­mu­nist Party and agreed to ne­go­ti­ate a new con­sti­tu­tion.

On Feb. 11, 1990, de Klerk freed Man­dela.

Grow­ing pains and rel­a­tive peace

It has been by no means an easy tran­si­tion. Be­fore the 1994 elec­tions, South africa went through its worst episode of po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence, much of it black-on-black killing be­tween the anC and its ri­val, the Inkatha Free­dom Party.

The first few years un­der Man­dela were not smooth as the gov­ern­ment some­times fum­bled to de­liver on prom­ises to the newly em­pow­ered black ma­jor­ity.

Man­dela per­haps was not the most able ad­min­is­tra­tor, but his last­ing achieve­ment was not so much in gov­ern­ing as in cre­at­ing the stage for the new gov­ern­ment. He made it clear that he had no in­ten­tion of spend­ing more than one five-year term as pres­i­dent.

In 1999, Man­dela re­tired from pol­i­tics, mov­ing back to the town of his birth with Graca Machel, the widow of Mozam­bi­can Pres­i­dent Samora Machel. They were mar­ried in 1998.

Man­dela re­mained fairly healthy through his later years, though he was di­ag­nosed and treated for prostate can­cer in 2001.

In June 2004, at age 85, he an­nounced his for­mal re­tire­ment from pub­lic life, and he largely stayed out of the spot­light. In 2007, Man­dela con­vened a group of world lead­ers, dubbed “The el­ders,” com­mit­ted to find­ing so­lu­tions to prob­lems around the globe. He made his fi­nal pub­lic ap­pear­ance in 2010 at the World Cup, and in 2011 he met pri­vately with first lady Michelle Obama.

Man­dela spent his last years in rel­a­tive peace, watch­ing the coun­try he loved cope with the grow­ing pains of in­de­pen­dence.

“The truth is that we are not yet free,” Man­dela wrote, “we have merely achieved the free­dom to be free, the right not to be op­pressed.” — The Philadel­phia Inquirer/McClatchy-Tri­bune In­for­ma­tion Ser­vices


a young nel­son man­dela, circa 1937. man­dela spent most of his 27 years of im­pris­on­ment on robben Is­land in this small cell (right).

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