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The world celebrated the birth centenary of Nelson Mandela on July 18, 2018. He was one the most charismatic figures of the twenty first century and an apostle of peace and non-violence whose vision and mission led to the end of the ‘Apartheid’ in South Africa and to its peaceful transition to a democracy.
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born on 18th July, 1918 in the small town of Umtata, Transkei area, South Africa. He like most black South African boys of those days grew up in an environment of oppression and poverty. In his youth he saw the white South African government impose severe restrictions on an already oppressed, subjugated, uneducated black majority.
He graduated in law at the University of South Africa and became even more aware of the injustices and atrocities done in the name of apartheid. At the age of twenty nine in 1940 he participated in a strike with Oliver Tombo and helped organise the ANC Youth League in 1944. He participated in the ‘M Plan’, which was the development of underground cells from the ANC branches which gave a new dimension to the struggle for racial equality. He was arrested in 1961 but in the same year he established the ‘Umkhonto we Sizwe’ (Spear of the Nation or MK), an organization committed to an armed struggle against apartheid.
Mandela left the country for military training in Algeria and to arrange training for other MK members. On his return, he was arrested for leaving the country illegally and for incitement to strike. He conducted his own defence. He was convicted and jailed for five years in November 1962.While serving his sentence, he was charged, in the Rivonia Trial, with sabotage and sentenced to life imprisonment. He spent the first 18 years of his incarceration at the Robben Island Prison. Later on, he was transferred to Pollsmoor Prison. Mandela was released on11th February 1990.
Mandela was a man of conviction. In his growing years he evolved and analysed certain concepts-that racial discrimination was linked to imperialism; the Gandhian way of fight (civil disobedience, strikes, protest marches, boycotts, all kinds of demonstrations) was essential but according to the needs certain changes could be made; cohesion of people from all walks and ideological backgrounds was mandatory for over-throwing the discriminatory social system.
After his release, Mandela worked untiringly for a peaceful and democratic South Africa. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in the year 1993.On April 27, 1994, South Africa held its first-ever free election and the people elected Mandela as the first non-white democratically-elected president.
During the five years of his presidency, Mandela spread and consolidated the message of forgiveness, peace, unity and nation-building. Among his earliest and finest gestures was to invite the wives and widows of former Prime Ministers and Presidents to tea, and to take a special trip to the White Afrikaner enclave of Orania to pay a courtesy call on Betsie Verwoerd, the ailing widow of the assassinated architect of apartheid, Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd.
His struggle was pragmatic in nature-attainment of democracy by ethical means along with the support of people from different background. Known as the “Grandfather” of South Africa, Mandela embodies the true characteristics of a Great Hero. He personifies the way in which the human spirit can win over hate and evil by accepting peace and reconciliation. Even though initially he took part in the armed struggle, at the first opportunity, he opted to negotiate peacefully with his previous persecutors because an armed struggle was against his nature.
Mandela demonstrated physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional courage throughout his life and continued to lead, inspire, and stand against unfair injustices perpetrated against him and his people. He never considered his personal safety or wellbeing but always courageously put his people and his true beliefs first.
When his tyrannical government convicted him of treason, he valiantly stood up, stated what he believed in, and declared that he was ready to die for his convictions. He gave up his all to guarantee that his dream of a free and equal South Africa would come to fruition.
He inspired a generation of people to hope and never give up on what they believe in. He achieved what no one thought possible- a negotiated, peaceful transition to a democratic government. He unselfishly sacrificed himself, and willingly suffered for the good of all South African people.
Mandela was awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding for 1979 by the Indian Government. In his acceptance letter he acknowledged the influence Pandit Nehru and the All India Congress had on him. He admired the solidarity displayed by the All-India Congress with the people of Ethiopia when Fascist Italy was ravaging her, the sympathy expressed by the All India Congress with Republican Spain and the Congress Medical Mission to China in 1938. He fondly recalled the stand taken by India against Apartheid at the Asian People’s Conference in 1947, at Bandung in 1955, at the Commonwealth deliberations and in the Non-Aligned Movement everywhere and at all times. He also acknowledged the role of Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa and his ideas and methods of struggle that influenced the history of the people of India and South Africa. He stated that the oldest political organisation in South Africa, the Natal Indian Congress was founded by Mahatma Gandhi in 1904.
Nelson Mandela stimulated a nation to achieve a wonderful, positive goal, and at the end of the day, that is the true mark of a hero. To take stock of all his achievements, and realize what one genuinely good man can do, is an inspiration to all people. The streets of South Africa could so easily have run with the blood of her people, but Mandela propelled an entire nation along a nonviolent path to a place where “all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities”.