“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to the 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."
Freedom fighter, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, former South African President and key figure instrumental in ending the apartheid rule in South Africa - these are few of the things by which Nelson Mandela will always be remembered.
Sheer determination and courage to fight injustice made the 95 years old iconic figure a symbol of hope that ultimately led to end the apartheid. Mandela created history in 1994 when he was elected as the first black President of the nation and also the oldest at the age of 75 years. During his tenure he introduced a range of progressive social reforms.
He dedicated his entire life fighting for freedom and democracy, to end the apartheid and racial discrimination. To pay tribute to him, his birthday is now celebrated as the Mandela Day dedicated to promoting peace.
Born on July 18, 1918, Nelson Mandela was born as Rolihlahla Mandela in Mvezo town. He grew up to study Bachelor of Law from University of London External Programme.
A strong advocator of equality, Mandela’s entry in the world of politics in South Africa took place in 1948 after the victory of pro-apartheid National Party which supported the racial discrimination.
During his initial years, he was strongly influenced by the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi and led the non-violent protests against apartheid. However, he finally decided to initiate an armed struggle.
In 1961, Mandela co-founded and became the leader of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the ANC. Umkhonto we Sizwe waged a war against the government and launched several attacks.
However, the government arrested Mandela on December 55, 1956 and he was charged with treason. On April 20, 1964 at Pretoria Supreme Court, he was sentenced to 27 years in prison on Robben Island. His sentencing created uproar in the international community.
Despite being behind bars, Mandela continued with his fight against the system. In 1985, President PW Botha offered to release him if he `unconditionally rejected violence as a political weapon`. Mandela refused saying that “only free men can negotiate. A prisoner cannot enter into contracts.”
The whole world joined in celebrations as Mandela was released from prison on February 11, 1990. A wave of change could be seen as the government also lifted the ban on ANC and other apartheid organizations.
Mandela’s lifelong struggle to end apartheid and laying the foundation for democracy in South Africa was honored in 1993 when he and President FW de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel peace prize.
The life and times of Nelson Mandela perhaps can be summed up in the best possible manner in his own words – “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.” Indeed, Mandela spent his whole life spreading the message of love and peace and has left behind a legacy which will be followed by generations to come.