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Nelson Mandela: The Rainbow Man

Johannesburg, Dec 6 : "What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead." — Nelson Mandela.


Political leaders, monarchs, statesmen, celebrities, revolutionaries, social workers- many through the ages have perhaps said these words in different expressions. But Nelson Mandela, who was born Rolihlahla Mandela into the Madiba clan in Mvezo, Transkei, on July 18, 1918 was a living embodiment of all that he espoused and said. The present world perhaps had not seen a bigger icon of democracy and fighter against racism as Mandela.

An extraordinary life, Mandela indeed changed the destiny of his people armed with just one weapon- Non-violence, the Gandhian way, after his initial ideas of violent means to achieve freedom for his people. And it was but befitting for India thus to honour him with Bharat Ratna as one of the only two non-Indians to have received this award. He had visited India as the first country after he was released from prison in 1990.

South African President Zuma cannot be more precise when he said of the death: "Our people have lost a father. We knew that this day would come. Nothing can diminish our sense of a profound and enduring loss. His tireless struggle for freedom earned him the respect of the world."

'What made Mandela great was precisely what made him human. We saw in him what we seek in ourselves. In him we saw so much of ourselves,' said Zuma.

Mandela lived his life like a true fighter and it was but a full circle for the destiny of Blacks in South Africa when the anti-apartheid icon who spent 27 years in prison became the President of South Africa in 1994 and held the post till 1999. He was the first black South African to hold the office, and the first elected in a fully representative, multiracial election.

Mandela truly decided the destiny of South Africa as a rainbow nation after he became the President, taking the coloured and the Whites along with him as he with his committed policy of non-violence dismantled institutionalised racism.

Mandela, who was a nationalist and democratic socialist, was the President of his African National Congress (ANC) from 1991 to 1997. Internationally, Mandela was the Secretary General of the Non-Aligned Movement from 1998 to 1999.

According to his Nobel Prize winning life sketch, Mandela's father was Hendry Mphakanyiswa of the Tembu Tribe. Mandela himself was educated at University College of Fort Hare and the University of Witwatersrand where he studied law. He joined the African National Congress in 1944 and was engaged in resistance against the ruling National Party's apartheid policies after 1948. He went on trial for treason in 1956-1961 and was acquitted in 1961.

After the banning of the ANC in 1960, Nelson Mandela argued for the setting up of a military wing within the ANC. In June 1961, the ANC executive considered his proposal on the use of violent tactics and agreed that those members who wished to involve themselves in Mandela's campaign would not be stopped from doing so by the ANC. This led to the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe.

Mandela was arrested in 1962 and sentenced to five years' imprisonment with hard labour. In 1963, when many fellow leaders of the ANC and the Umkhonto we Sizwe were arrested, Mandela was brought to stand trial with them for plotting to overthrow the government by violence. His statement from the dock received considerable international publicity. On June 12, 1964, eight of the accused, including Mandela, were sentenced to life imprisonment. From 1964 to 1982, he was incarcerated at Robben Island Prison, off Cape Town; thereafter, he was at Pollsmoor Prison, nearby on the mainland.

During his years in prison, Nelson Mandela's reputation grew steadily. He was widely accepted as the most significant black leader in South Africa and became a potent symbol of resistance as the anti-apartheid movement gathered strength.

He consistently refused to compromise his political position to obtain his freedom.

Nelson Mandela was released on February 11, 1990. After his release, he plunged himself wholeheartedly into his life's work, striving to attain the goals he and others had set out almost four decades earlier.

In 1991, at the first national conference of the ANC held inside South Africa after the organization had been banned in 1960, Mandela was elected President of the ANC while his lifelong friend and colleague, Oliver Tambo, became the organisation's National Chairperson.

In 1993, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Mandela had married thrice and became father of six children. He had 17 grandchildren from them.

Mandela's first marriage was to Evelyn Ntoko Mase, who was also from the Transkei, but the couple broke up in 1957.

The couple had two sons and two daughters. Their first daughter died aged nine months.

Mandela's second wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, also came from the Transkei area, although they, too, met in Johannesburg, where she was the city's first black social worker. He had two daughters from Winnie.

Mandela later fell out with his wife after his prison term ended when there was also a political estrangement with Winnie.

At age 80, Mandela remarried to his third wife, Graca Machel (nee Simbine), widow of Samora Machel, the former Mozambican president and ANC ally who was killed in an air crash.

As the world mourns the end of an extraordinary life, the words of Nelson Mandela Foundation sums it up for posterity: "His legacy lives on in all of us - it is in our hands now."

--IBNS (Posted on 06-12-2013)

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