As the world pays tribute to the late, great Nelson Mandela, a former lawyer, activist, key figure in ending apartheid in South Africa, and the country’s first ever Black President, there can be no overlooking the spiritual legacy he has left behind.
Nelson Mandela (also known as Madiba) proved, without question, the positive impact that forgiving and reconciling with one’s enemies can have, in bringing about political progress in a nation once divided by unrest, racism and violence.
In fact, Mandela’s decision to forgive his White oppressors, so that South Africans of all races could focus on working together to build unity in a previously disunited nation that enshrined racism within its racist apartheid laws, turned him into a world icon. How could people fail to admire someone, who chose forgiveness above bitterness; put love before hate; and thought it better to be reconciled to and work alongside one’s enemy, rather than be estranged from them?
Mandela’s courageous, moral and political act enabled South Africa to move forward peacefully from its racist past and, though the country still has some pressing problems to deal with – such as the AIDS crisis, poverty, poor housing and a high crime rate – the racist laws, which once characterised the country, have all but disappeared.
Rolihlahla Mandela, as he was named at birth, was born in Mvezo, in South Africa’s Eastern Cape on 18 July 1918, the son of a tribal chief. He was named Nelson when he started school, as it was customary to give pupils English names.
In 1941, he fled to Johannesburg, to escape an arranged marriage. He met Walter Sisulu, who helped him find a job in a law firm.
In 1944, Nelson joined the African National Congress (ANC), and worked alongside them to dismantle apartheid, which in effect denied Black people
legal rights, subjecting many to a life of poverty and second-class citizenry. In 1952, along with his life-long friend, Oliver Tambo, Nelson set up South Africa’s first Black law firm.
Whilst working for the ANC, Mandela, along with 155 other people, was arrested and charged with treason in 1956. After a four-and-a-half-year trial, Mandela was acquitted.
Following a peaceful protest in Sharpeville in 1960, 69 Black protestors were shot dead. Fearing retaliation, the government banned the ANC, forcing the organisation to develop a military wing, and Mandela to go underground.
In 1962, Mandela was tried for leaving South Africa unlawfully
and, in 1963 whilst in prison, he was charged with sabotage. In 1964, along with seven other ANC activists, he was sentenced to life imprisonment and jailed.
The world started to exert pressure on the South African government to end apartheid by using sanctions, which first came into force in 1967.
There followed an international campaign to free Nelson Mandela, which culminated with his release on 11 February 1990, after serving 27 years in prison. The following year, he became the first President of the ANC, and began talks with the South African government to hold multi-racial elections.
In 1993, Mr Mandela and South African President, FW De Klerk, were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for efforts to bring stability to South Africa and, in 1994, Nelson Mandela became the first ever Black President of South Africa.
He stepped down from the Presidency in 1997, but continued to travel the world in an ambassadorial role for his beloved South Africa, raising awareness of AIDS, and secured the 2010 FIFA World Cup for the country. When he died, on Thursday 5th December 2013, he was surrounded by his family.
No-one can say that Nelson Mandela’s life was not one that was well lived. He is proof that, when an individual has faith in God, is consistent, resilient, brave, courageous, and works towards life’s highest values of peace, justice and equality, nothing is impossible to achieve.
FAMOUS SAYINGS OF NELSON MANDELA
“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”
“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate and, if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
“I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”
“Religion is one of the most important forces in the world. Whether you are a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Jew or a Hindu, religion is a great force, and it can help one have command of one’s own morality, one’s own behaviour and one’s own attitude.”
“There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”
“Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished.”
“If there are dreams about a beautiful South Africa, there are also roads that lead to their goal. Two of these roads could be named Goodness and Forgiveness.”