By Natalie Carragher
South Africa’s first black President Nelson Mandela, died on Thursday 5th December 2013, aged 95.
The news hits me just after midnight with a quick scroll down my Facebook newsfeed. I was immediately exposed to a barrage of ‘RIP Mandela’ statuses. News websites were quick to flood the internet with tributes and commentaries, showing he truly meant the world to the masses.
For 20 years, Nelson Mandela led his country from racial apartheid into an inclusive democracy. His achievements were enormous and unrivalled. In his lifetime, Mandela not only became South Africa’s first black President but was a Nobel Peace Prize winner and established South Africa’s first black law firm. He fought for his pursuit of equality desiring to distribute wealth more fairly in South Africa – where the majority of wealth previously lay with white supremacists.
Mandela did not always have such a heroic reputation, and the struggles he faced in terms of reputation should not be glossed over by modern depictions of sainthood, but rather addressed and studied. To this day people still challenge his policy of reconciliation and whether this did indeed serve the interests of poor blacks, or instead reinforced white supremacy. Were the human sacrifices made during his pursuit of equality worth it? The 27 years he spent in prison were the ultimate sacrifice to the anti-apartheid cause. Mandela was pitted as a villain – Margaret Thatcher’s terrorist.
It is important to recognise Mandela the man, and his aims as a political force separately. Were his political methods one-hundred percent successful? No. Surely this is too much to ask from one man’s career, but rather a lesson and a symbol for what could be if we all supported his message of peace and equality. Within these discrepancies of opinion surrounding the character and history of Mandela lie the strongest lessons we can learn. Mandela showed us it is possible to fight the good fight and not be recognised as the hero. Mandela persevered and we apologised. Mandela won the world over and we are now ashamed he had to.
The news of his passing will be felt by people across the globe but no more so than in South Africa itself. Mandela’s death was announced on South African television by current President Jacob Zuma. The moment in which Zuma proclaimed, “Our nation has lost its greatest son,” will resonate with South Africans for the rest of their lives. Zuma went on to say, “Although we knew this day would come, nothing can diminish our sense of a profound and enduring loss.”
It is true that despite his declining health the impact of his passing is in no way lessened. Mandela was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2001 and thus retired from public life. His declining health remained prevalent in the international media and very much took centre stage in the documentation of his final years. For many, it seemed death would never come to such a legendary fighter.
Tributes have poured in from world leaders expressing great sadness at the news. US President Barack Obama, stated, “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.”
Nelson Mandela was born in Mvezo in 1918. In 1943 he joined the ANC and became co-founder of its youth league. The Sharpeville Massacre of 1960, in which 69 black protesters were shot dead by police, forced Mandela to launch an armed struggle which eventually led to his arrest and a twenty-seven-year imprisonment. At his trial in 1964, Mandela explained, “I 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.”
It was for this ideal, and the struggle to make this a reality, for which he fought for his entire life. In 1990, then President FW de Klerk lifted the ban on the ANC and Mandela was released from prison – a move celebrated worldwide.
I will remember this evening and the sadness brought about by the news of this astounding man’s passing with the same veracity of which I remember the morning I watched the press coverage of Princess Diana’s death. It warms my heart to hear Nelson Mandela died peacefully in the company of his family at home in Johannesburg. This peaceful end to a life is exactly what this inspirational man deserved in his final hours. Even in death, Mandela has managed to bring the world together in both mourning and celebration of his achievements.
Thursday 5th December will be a date that goes down in history as the day the world lost one of the most influential men ever to walk this earth. Nelson Mandela was a man who stood up for his beliefs and worked to make them a reality despite the pain and opposition he faced. Mandela’s legacy will long live on.
Nelson Mandela’s funeral will be held in Qunu, South Africa, on Sunday 15th December 2013.