“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 live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” -Nelson Mandela, 1964
At 95 years young, the former South African President and anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela died at his home after a long battle with complications stemming from a recurring lung infection. Jacob Zuma, the current president of South Africa, made the announcement Thursday afternoon.
“He achieved more than could be expected of any man. Today, he has gone home. And we have lost one of the most influential, courageous, and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth. He no longer belongs to us — he belongs to the ages,” said United States President Barack Obama saying he is one of the millions around the world who drew inspiration from Mandela.
“Like Brother Malcolm X, el Hajj Malik El Shabazz, Nelson Mandela will always be remembered in every nook and cranny of Planet Earth, because we will make it so!” said Professor Sam Anderson. Anderson, who organized in 1990 to bring Mandela to New York, was also among those who shared his sentiments about the former ANC leader.
Earlier this year, Mandela was on life support at Pretoria’s Medi-clinic Heart Hospital in South Africa but his health improved and he was able to return home where, although he was unable to speak, he was kept in stable condition by 22 doctors.
Mandela’s struggle with illness began years ago. While in prison in South Africa, Mandela became sick as a result of the horrible living conditions. In 1985, while still serving his sentence, Mandela had surgery to remove an enlarged prostate. In 1988 he contracted and was hospitalized for TB. Then, last year, reports of Mandela’s tremulous health came from South African government officials and the Mandela family.
On receiving news about Mandela’s deteriorating health, activists, politicians and admirers also began sharing their thoughts and sentiments for Mandela.
“I had the privilege of meeting President Mandela upon his first visit to New York after his release from the South African prison,” reminisced Terrie M. Williams, author and founder of the Stay Strong Foundation. “I was fortunate and blessed to be a part of the team that facilitated his visit for Mayor Dinkins’ office. I will never forget his majestic presence. I believe his spirit will be among us here on earth forever, and if we can quiet our inner turmoil long enough, we can be guided by his wisdom and strength—always … always.”
In July Graca Machel, Mandela’s wife, reported that she saw his spirit and sparkle “somehow fading.”
Nelson Mandela was born Rolihlahla Mandela on July 18, 1918 to Nkosi Mphakanyiswa Gadla Mandela of the Madiba clan. Mandela was born in Mvezo, Transkei, located in the southeastern region of South Africa. After the death of his father in 1927 he was adopted by Acting King Jongintaba Dalindyebo.
In July, in an interview with friends and family members who live in Madela’s childhood home of Qunu, citizens were already grieving the loss of this powerful leader. People of the village were relfecting on Madela’s life and success and what he has contributed to their lives.
Nomishini Krexa, a villager said, “Because of him we can feed our children. We have toilets, we have electricity. We would like to let him go but we’re scared. He has done so much for us.”
It was during primary school in Qunu that Rolihlahla received his Christian name “Nelson” from his teacher. Mandela completed his studies to earn a BA from the University of South Africa and later earned a two-year law degree, which he put to use in 1952 when he partnered with Oliver Tambo to establish South Africa’s first black law firm, Tambo and Mandela.
“Against this backdrop, American civil and human rights advocates turned our attention to apartheid in South Africa. Nelson Mandela emerged as the cauldron for our fire and our greatest hope that we could all one day be free from oppression,” wrote Wade Henderson, the president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights in a statement. “Mandela’s struggle, along with that of his countrymen, became ours. When apartheid finally ended, we were reminded yet again that an organized coalition in pursuit of justice can achieve great things.”
He was first arrested, and served nine months in prison, after serving as the the National Volunteer-in-Chief of the Defiance Campaign, which used civil disobedience to protest against laws that unjustly limited the movement of Black and Colored South Africans.
““The Honorable Nelson Mandela embodied the hopes, dreams, aspirations and values of all who seek justice against tremendous odds. He responded to unfathomable violence with peace and courage, and in doing so he forever changed the world,” wrote Roslyn Brock, Chairman of the NAACP Board of Directors, in a statement
In 1955 Mandela was arrested again in a countrywide police swoop that charged 155 activists. This lead to the 1956 treason trials, of which he was acquitted in 1961. Finally, during the famous 1963 Rivonia trials, Mandela and nine others were charged with sabotage and Mandela was sentenced to life in prison.
“I am heartbroken by the passing of Nelson Mandela, and my condolences go out to his family in their time of grief. Throughout his life and career, he was a paragon of the bravery and tenacity necessary to effect positive change in a world gripped by poverty, disease, and injustice,” said Bertha Lewis, President of The Black Institute. “His courage inspired an international campaign that eventually led to his release after 27 years behind bars. Mandela negotiated for the end of Apartheid…Mandela’s accomplishments should inspire those who find themselves embroiled in the struggle for peace, tolerance, and equal rights. Let us honor his life and his commitment by striving to advance his mission in our daily lives, and promote the values he championed through our choices and deeds”
Under apartheid, Mandela served 27 years in prison and was released in 1990 after turning down government propositions promising his release if he renounced violence. He continued his work and advocacy once being released from jail. He became the first Black president of South Africa in 1994 and served until 1999.
“While some inside and outside of South Africa questioned decisions made by the Mandela government and its inability to tackle the gross inequities created and sustained under apartheid, his government oversaw the creation of important institutions that established models for other states in Africa and beyond,” said Judith Byfield, a professor of history at Cornell University focusing on the decolonization of Africa.
In his 95 years of life, Mandela married three times and had six children. During his struggle with his illnesses, daughter Makaziwe Mandela told the Associated Press, “I’m sure now, in his twilight years, that he looks back and says, `You know, I could have done that differently,’” Makaziwe said. “He has regrets in life, mostly about his family. He was not there as a father. He tried the best way that he could when he came out of jail. But you understand that my father came out of jail and was swallowed up even before he became president. He never really had the time to truly be a father.”
In July, Mandela’s grandson Ndaba Mandela also shared a little of what the family was feeling. He said hat while the family appreciates all the tireless work the former activist-turned-president has done in his close to a century of living, they, like so many others, did not really want to think about him making his transition.
“To Graça Machel and his family, Michelle and I extend our deepest sympathy and gratitude for sharing this extraordinary man with us. His life’s work meant long days away from those who loved him the most. And I only hope that the time spent with him these last few weeks brought peace and comfort to his family,” said Obama.
The people of South Africa along with admirers from around the world will feel the loss of this leader. Through his relentless work to spread peace and equality, Mandela touched the lives of many.
Civil Rights Leaders in New York have called a candle light vigil “in honor of civil rights icon Nelson Mandela outside the South African Consulate in Manhattan” for Thursday, Dec. 5 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
“As word spreads about the death of one of the most profound civil rights leaders in the world, here in NY local social justice and civil rights activist scurry to pull together a befitting candle light vigil in his honor,” reads their statement.