US president Barrack Obama will today lead tributes to former South African president Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela at the stadium in Johannesburg as the world bids farewell to one of the greatest statesman ever to come from Africa in a special memorial. UK Prime Minister David Cameroon, Indian Prime Minister and Cuban president Raoul Castro will be among the speakers during the memorial that is expected to bring together more than 60 presidents, Prime ministers and Head of Governments from around the world, a measure of how the late Mandela transcended race and nationality. One of his granddaughters told the BBC Newsday programme the Mandela clan will miss their patriarch but he did deserve a “beautiful send off” which is what begins today with the memorial and will end next Sunday December 15th 2013 when Mandela is finally laid to rest in a small family only funeral. Since his death last Thursday December 5 2013, thousands of South Africans and admirers have jammed the Mandela SOWETO residence to pay tribute to the “father of the nation” in the only way they do it best in South Africa; by singing and dancing. President Jacob Zuma and former archbishop Desmond Tutu both told South African TV the whole world was “celebrating” the life of Mandela rather than mourning his passing. More than 1500 foreign journalist are covering the week long festivities marking the death of Mandela, another indication of the international appeal that he represented. A big, smiling, kind-hearted boxer, Mandela managed to remain grounded despite the international adulation that followed him everywhere he visited around the world after his release from prison after 27 years. Big man, big heart. During the tributes that have flooded following his long expected but still shocking death, the adjectives that have been used frequently have included “kind, generous and understanding”. Despite the fact that he spent almost three decades in prison and was not even allowed to see his own children and grand children grow into adulthood, Mandela refused to stigmatize or carry out any kind of revenge against his apartheid oppressors. Following his release, the world learnt from him that former enemies can become friends and brothers when instead of sending his former tormentors to prison, he decided to create a national reconciliation conference during which some of the most vocal apartheid supporters and perpetuators confessed their crimes and they were freed.
He became a symbol of national reconciliation and the one South African who could speak and blacks, whites and coloured people listened to what he had to say. His fortitude helped South Africa pass through the most turbulent part of its history between 1990 when he was released and the 1994 general elections which the ANC won and Mandela became South Africa’s first black president. Thousands of South Africans were killed in sectarian fighting that erupted following Mandela’s release from prison as competing sectors of the country fought for supremacy. Die hard white minority right wing politicians refused to accept majority rule and fought to maintain the status quo. A certain black local chief Buthelezi was sponsored by some extreme white radicals to fight against the hegemony of the ANC and black majority rule. Millions of people will forever remember the Mandela name because he rose up to the occasion and brought back some peace and prevented the country from descending into outright civil war. Family Man Behind the very public persona of Nelson Mandela was also an intensively private man who married three times. Evelyn, his first wife is the least known of the three women because she left him before he became famous. They had three children but she could not cope with an absentee husband and father and just left home one day. Winnie Mandela was his second and best known wife and the one who stood up for him during his long spell in prison. Without her, Mandela might never have become the global venerated and brand that he became. In her own way, she kept the Mandela name in the public eye during the prison years and became an anti apartheid activist in her own right and suffered for her troubles.
South African security forces harassed her permanently and sometimes banned her from appearing in public. Like her husband, she became the “mother of the nation”. She and Mandela divorced following his release from prison with Mandela complaining that Winnie was no longer the woman he married. Gracia Marcel, widow of Mozambican president Samora Michel was his last great love and third wife and was by his side when he died at the age of 95. Mandela had many children and grandchildren all of whom adored him and will forever carry the Mandela name and brand. Because of the worldwide fame and money that anything associated with Mandela could and was generating, the family was sharply divided and had frequent court battles to settle cases that should have been resolved in a friendly family way. Mandela’s death might usher in the unity the family now badly needs but also has the potential to degenerate into an ugly family fight now that the patriarch of the family is gone. The South African government and the ANC might have to play an active role towards bringing peace in the family, if only to preserve the Mandela name and legacy. South African history can never be completely written without mentioning Nelson Mandela so the ruling ANC has an interest in preserving the good name. The Mandela family is now the de factor first family of South Africa
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