His death has been expected for some time now but when former South African president Nelson Mandela 95 finally died late yesterday thursday December 11 2013, it still came as a shock to most people in South Africa and around the world. He has been sick for some time with a lung infection
South African president Jacob Zuma announced the death of the father of the nation in a somber tune and was evidently, the best person to do so; “our beloved Nelson R Mandela has departed…Our nation has lost its greatest son” he said.
Tributes have been pouring in from around the globe to an iconic figure who somehow managed to transcend race, age and continents. US president Barrack Obama described “madiba” Mandela as one of his inspirations who gave him the courage to get into politics. UN Secretary General Ban ki Moon, former boxer Mohammed Ali, retired archbishop Desmond Tutu, UK Prime minister David Cameroon among others have all praised Mandela because they all believed and loved the man who meant so much to so many people.
When asked how he will like to be remembered after his death, Mandela said in his characteristic straight talking manner “here lies a man who has done his duty on earth”.
As expected, hundreds of South African jammed his Johannesburg residence as soon as news of his death became public and in true South African style, have been singing and dancing to celebrate his life. Some have been placing flowers and candles in front of his house while president Jacob Zuma decreed that all flags in South Africa will fly at half mast until Mandela’s funeral which is expected to take place in ten days time. Books of condolences will be open across all South African embassies around the world while in a rare honour accorded to a foreign leader, US president Barrack Obama ordered that flags fly at half mast across official buildings in the US for four days beginning today
Born in 1918, Mandela joined the African National Congress ANC in 1943 to fight against the discriminatory apartheid policies of white rule in South African. After trying unsuccessfully to change the policies of the apartheid government, Mandela and other ANC leaders decided to launch an armed struggle. He and others including Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo etc were arrested and tried for treason during the now infamous Rivonia trials in 1963. Mandela expected to be sentenced to death and said so in a powerful speech during the trial. Afraid of the consequences of killing an emblematic figure like Mandela, he was instead sentenced to Life. He spent 27 years in prison refusing attempts by the apartheid government to release him on condition that he renounced violence and his struggle for black majority rule. President FW De Clerk finally bowed to pressure and released Mandela in February 1990.
Four years later, Mandela was voted the first black South African president after refusing to carry out any revenge against his jailers and the minority white rulers who literary stole 27 years of his life. In the run-up to the transition to black majority rule, Mandela represented the hope of the nation and even before his elections, he was already de facto president as then president FW De Clerk struggled to stem the violence that erupted across the country following the release of Nelson Mandela. At critical times during the transitional period, president FW De Clerk allowed Mandela to address the nation and in so doing, played a significant part in ensuring South Africa did not descend into chaos. Five years after he was elected president, Mandela voluntarily stepped down, something that was very surprising in an African leader some of whom hang on to power until they die or are forced out of office at gun point.
Like all human beings, Madiba had his shortcomings. Because of his dedication to the fight for freedom, two of his marriages collapsed spectacularly, the most significant one being to Winnie Mandela who stood by him during his 27 years in prison. Winnie accompanied Mandela on February 11 1990 when he was released but the two later separated when Mandela became president. Mandela was married to Gracia Michel, widow of former Mozambican president Samora Michel at the time of his death. Some critics say Mandela sacrificed the life of his family for the liberation struggle.
He was also criticized for not doing enough to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor during his five year presidency. A vast majority of black South Africans still live in abject poverty. White South Africans largely still control the South African economy.
Nelson Mandela will be remembered for reconciling a very divisive and troubled rainbow nation. He almost singlehandedly prevented South Africa from descending into chaos when he magnanimously refused to punish the white minority rulers who divided South Africa with their racist policies. Following his release from prison, he refused to listen to former US president Bill Clinton who adviced him against visiting former pariah Libyan leader Muarmar Ghaddafi. Mandela told Clinton that Ghaddafi supported the liberation struggle in South Africa and he was not going to abandon him.
A tall, handsome, smiling former boxer, Mandela meant many things to many people. He was a stoic, unrepentant and forgiving man who always had a kind word for friends and never failed to criticize anybody whom he thought had crossed the line.
He will be remembered for his broad friendly smile, his dancing and those colourful shirts!
Adieu Madiba and fare you well.