“During my lifetime I have dedicated my life to this 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 will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realized. But, My Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
– Nelson Mandela’s “Speech from the Dock,” Rivonia Trial, April 20, 1964
Nelson Mandela, whose name is synonymous with the struggle that ended South African apartheid, died Thursday in his native country at the age of 95.
Just a handful of people in the last century have made the kind of sweeping impact for good in the way that Nelson Mandela did – think Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. He was a charismatic man who in a non-violent way put his life on the line – and his person in prison – for his convictions. He changed the face of South Africa and, really, the world.
Rolihlahla Mandela was born on July 18, 1918, in Mvezo, Transkei, South Africa, the son of a counselor to the acting king of the Thembu people. As a child, he lived in the village of Qunu and attended primary school where his teacher bestowed upon him the Christian name of Nelson, as was the custom at the time.
While Mandela was still a young boy, his father died, and he became a ward of the acting king. Leaving his village and joining the royal family exposed Mandela to the thinking of tribal elders and put him on the path to learning about African history and dreaming of freedom and equality for black South Africans.
He became increasingly politically active and in 1944 joined the African National Congress. For many years he led non-violent actions and civil disobedience against the South African government and its racist policies.
He was arrested and put on trial several times. Perhaps the most significant was the 1964 Rivonia Trial where he and seven others faced the death penalty but were convicted of sabotage and sentenced to life in prison. While in prison, he learned the language of his captors so he could communicate with them.
In February 1990, Mandela was released from prison after 27 years of incarceration.
Just three years later, he and South African President F.W. de Klerk received the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to end that government’s nearly 50-year-old system of apartheid, which enforced racial segregation and curtailed the rights of the majority black population while enhancing the rule of the white Afrikaner minority.
Mandela made history in 1994 when he was elected the first black president of the Republic of South Africa in the country’s first open election. He served one term and stepped down in 1999.
In the Xhosa language, Mandela’s birth name of Rolihlahla is commonly translated to mean “troublemaker,” according to Biography.com. Instead, Mandela became an agent of positive change for his native South Africa that was felt worldwide.
The name of Nelson Mandela will live on in history – and in the hearts and minds of those who believe equality and freedom should be the destiny of all people.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.