Yesterday, Thursday the 5th of December 2013, Nelson Mandela, former South African president, anti-apartheid campaigner, noble statesman and a role model for humanity, passed from this world in his sleep in Johannesburg. He was 95. He had been receiving intensive medical care at home for a lung infection after spending three months in hospital.
Born in what was then the Eastern Cape province in July 1918, Mandela rose from humble beginnings to become leader of the African National Congress, which fought against the oppressive apartheid regime and its racist laws. His activities against the South African regime of the time saw him jailed for 27 years on the notorious Robben Island prison off the coast of Cape Town. Yet by the beginning of the 1990s, the governmental separation and discrimination of South Africa’s many peoples was on its last breath. The racist machinery that saw white, black and brown South Africans forced to use separate benches, parks, shop entrances and even beaches; and told them where to live, who to work for and who to marry, was being dismantled.
Nelson Mandela would soon leave Robben Island and enter a new, free, fair South Africa for all. An influential, yet humble man, Madiba, as he was affectionately known, would transform from political prisoner to president of what soon to become known as the ‘Rainbow Nation‘.
As prisoner and as politician, Mandela was always thrust into the world’s eye, yet remained humble and down-to-earth. Even witnessing and being caught up in the worst excesses of the apartheid government, Mandela never preached hatred. A wise giant among legends, always joyous and smiling, Madiba preached reconciliation and forgave even those who oppressed him.
While today’s celebrities become famous for being in the news for the wrong reasons or even for not doing much at all, it was people like Mandela who are truly deserving in consideration as ideal role models for our younger generations. His life, struggle, and his quotes are beyond doubt true inspiration for humanity. Unlike other politicians who were more interested in massaging their reputations and inflating their bank balances, Mandela, even as President, always prioritised others first. He fought for their freedoms, and for their right to a happy life free from discrimination. He was not just a son of South Africa, or even of Africans, but a son of humanity. An inspiration to the oppressed everywhere and a rare gem among world leaders.
As a child growing up in the 1990’s far away in London, UK, I was a million miles from the struggles of South Africans to live a free and equal existence, but even then in those twilight years while watching the Six O’Clock News, I appreciated the impact that Mandela had. I still remembering seeing broadcast footage of Madiba leaving the prison and taking his first steps into the fresh air of freedom, and of people in the streets dancing to the dawn of a new nation. I was in awe of his distinctive sense of fashion style, which his brightly coloured African shirts always catching my youthful eye. His smile, sincere and reassuring, which never flagged despite his busy schedules. He treated everyone the same, whether meeting schoolchildren in poor townships like Soweto, or meeting US presidents or British royalty. Some time later I saw the televised proceedings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, an attempt by South Africans from past times and present to heal the pain and reveal the reality of when the nation was split by race.
Even after multi-party and multiracial elections in 1994, Mandela did not simply think “job done” and rest on his laurels. He campaigned tirelessly for AIDS awareness, human rights and was involved in peace initiatives in war-torn African nations such as Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Right until his last day in this life, Nelson Mandela was a tireless African statesman and a considerate and revolutionary international humanitarian.
Our dear Madiba, you taught us many things. To see each other as humans with common goals and aspirations rather than looking at skin colour or background. You taught us that even from the most lowly and difficult of starts, anyone could rise to the peak of glory. You taught us inner strength from your 27 years detained by the apartheid regime in South Africa, a spell in jail that would break most people, but you left the confines of life imprisonment to selflessly usher in a new South Africa, and a new world. You have given so much hope to the disadvantaged across the world, met with presidents, royalty and celebrities yet always remained humble and smiling.
As a fellow African who grew up seeing your struggle and watched you become the first black South African president, I truly salute you and thank you for your legacy.
In honour of Mandela, the Half-Eaten Mind is presenting a series of images and quotes of one of our world’s greatest icons. Our collection is how we can say, that while we express great sadness at his passing, that we should never forget to remember his legacy and the gift of freedom he helped in giving to South Africa, and the inspiration he gifted to people across the world.
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela
18.07.1918 – 05.12.2013
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