The anti-apartheid leader and South African revolutionary has died at the age of 95. Nana-Ekua Brew Hammond remembers the extraordinary life and deeds of the man known as 'Madiba'

by Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, December 05, 2013


Nelson Mandela

as police shot, tear gassed, or beat with batons other protesters gathered around the country. In response, the South African government called a State of Emergency; and banned the ANC from operation. Mandela was detained with 1000 others. Meanwhile, the bloody episode was condemned around the world.

Once committed to nonviolent protest, Mandela formed an armed wing of the ANC in 1961 and called it Umkhonto we Sizwe — “Spear of the Nation”. He snuck out of the country under an assumed name and traveled around Africa and to the UK lobbying for support; also getting military training in Morocco and Ethiopia. Shortly after his return to South Africa, Mandela was arrested and sentenced to a five-year term. While serving that sentence, he was charged with sabotage and sentenced to life in prison.

Prison was an almost comic reminder of the ridiculousness of Apartheid. At Robben Island, where Mandela spent the first 18 years of his 27-year incarceration, the inmates were accorded different treatment based on their race, down to meals. Mandela wrote in his autobiography:

For Africans, lunch consisted of boiled mealies, that is, coarse kernels of corn. The Indian and Coloured prisoners received samp, or mealie rice, which consisted of ground mealies in a souplike mixture. The samp was sometimes served with vegetables whereas our mealies were served straight. … For supper, Coloured and Indian prisoners received a quarter loaf of bread (known as a katkop, that is, a cat's head, after the shape of the bread) and a slab of margarine. Africans, it was presumed, did not care for bread as it was a "European" type of food.

Mandela’s mother and son died while he was on the island. The government’s refusal to let him attend their funerals added to deepening national and international sympathies that had begun to lay firmly with Mandela and the ANC, thanks in no small part to Mandela’s wife Winnie.

While her husband served his term, Winnie worked tirelessly to subvert Apartheid, sending their daughters to boarding school in Swaziland so she could focus. Mrs. Mandela was under surveillance by the South African government, arrested multiple times and tortured. Her home was firebombed. Through it all, she spoke out against the brutality of the racist South African system, earning folk hero status in her own right as the “Mother of the Nation”.

Mrs. Mandela’s legacy was later tarnished by violence she was found to have sanctioned against African sympathizers of Apartheid; and the abduction and murder of a 14-year-old boy named Stompie Moeketsi by her bodyguards who went by the moniker The Mandela United Football Club. Later, Mrs. Mandela became embroiled in corruption scandals and found guilty of "gross violations of human rights". Still, Winnie remains a hero to many South Africans and people around the world.

In response to mounting international pressure that included sanctions and disinvestment, the South African government moved Mandela and other ANC leaders were to Pollsmoor Prison in 1982. Three years later, President P.W. Botha offered Mandela his freedom in exchange for renouncing armed struggle; Mandela refused the condition. In ’88, Mandela was moved to a private house on the Victor Verster Prison compound in Paarl, a minimum security facility where he would serve out the last months of his term.

In ’89, South Africa’s President Botha resigned after suffering a stroke. His successor F.W. de Klerk was a former conservative who had condoned Apartheid before slowly changing course to lead members of his party toward reform. As President, de Klerk announced Mandela’s release date—February 11, 1990—and lifted the ban on the ANC.

After 27 years in prison, Mandela had become a global symbol of gracious victory over centuries of entrenched xenophobia. He was welcomed back to public life by his countrymen, the international community, and Winnie. In ’91 he was elected president of the ANC. A year later, the couple that had been apart for all but six years of their 34-year marriage officially separated. They would divorce in 1996.

In 1993, Mandela and de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to dismantle the country's Apartheid system. On April 27, 1994, South Africa held its first democratic election. 19 parties contended for the presidency including de Klerk, but in the end Mandela won with over 12 million votes to de Klerk’s nearly four million. In a move that was unusual among leaders on the continent, Mandela promised one term in office.

President Mandela immediately set about healing Apartheid’s deep, rancid wounds. He leveraged the nation’s enthusiasm for sports to promote reconciliation between whites and blacks, encouraging black South Africans to support the national rugby team the Springboks. His efforts—and the team’s dramatic 1995 Rugby World Cup win against the favored New Zealand players—inspired the 2009 Clint Eastwood film Invictus starring Oscar-winners Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. Mandela’s life would inspire many

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