December 5th marked the passing of one of history’s greatest leaders, Nelson Mandela. The shocking news reverberated across the world, leading millions to reflect upon and honor the life of this storied political figure. Mandela spent more than a half of century as a symbol against the fundamentally racist apartheid in South Africa and injustice worldwide, placing Mandela’s legacy amongst the greatest democratic minds of all time. However if you look past the legendary status Mandela has reached, his remarkable 27years in prison, his Noble Peace Prize, and his historic presidency in South Africa, you’ll see a mere man, which makes his accomplishments that much more amazing. Out of all of the qualities Mandela possessed that made him a great leader, warmcharm, kindness, charisma, intelligence, trustworthiness, and moral creditability, it was his reluctance to abandon a seemingly hopeless situation that propelled Mandela to global notoriety. The passion Mandela had for his people and peace will forever remain in the hearts of all who stand for justice.
Mandela was born in 1918 into the royal tribe of Thimbu in the Transkei region of South Africa. As a child Mandela was first hand witness to the ill effects of pre-apartheid racism; blacks were only allowed to live in reservations located along remote country side. They were also restricted from owning or share cropping land outside of reservations, which caused inevitable poverty and wealth displacement amongst the nation. In knowledge of these limitations and other inequalities that prevailed, Mandela chose to forgo his rightful place as a chief in his tribe in order to attend college and study law. Activism came natural for Mandela, who was arrested as a student during strikes before joining the African National Congress in 1944. By 1948 the white minority national party legalized nationwide apartheid, causing the chaos in the South African political sphere to intensify beyond any past measure. Blacks were systematically displaced by laws that forced all people of color to live and permanently stay on reservations. They were then stripped of their citizenship, banned from intermarriage between races, and made to carry mandatory registration cards at all times. It was the horrible living circumstances that extended from these extremely racist laws that set the stage for Nelson Mandela to emerge as a key symbol in the anti-apartheid movement.
As the nation further suffered from being divided throughout the ‘50s in South Africa, many protesters were met with violent reactions from the government. It was during this time that Nelson Mandela moved up the ranks of the African National Congress, becoming one of the most identifiable figures in the organization. Very similar to other great leaders of the 20th century, Mandela rose to answer the cries of his nation by stepping to the front lines of battle as a non-violent figure willing to negotiate a non-racial nation with pristine democratic values. He believed that true freedom can only come to South Africa if there was a committed effort from both sides to meet in the middle. However, the white minority national party was highly intolerant of any protests by blacks. The casualty rate from the protests sky rocketed while oppositional figures to the apartheid, including Mandela, were in and out of jail due to unjust arrests. All seemed lost, but Nelson Mandela held firm, sticking to the cause of advancement for his people by any means.
Granted some progress had been made, Mandela was faced with a decision that forever shaped his image as a hero. After the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960, in which 69 people were killed and 200 were injured by police officers who fired into a crowd of protestors, it was clear to Mandela that there would be continued violence against the African National Congress and other advancement organizations, even though they only partook in peaceful demonstrations. In the wake of further foreseeable mayhem Mandela co-founded and operated the MK, a military wing in the African National Congress. In justification of the militarization of the African National Congress Mandela stated, “There are many people who feel that it is useless and futile to continue talking about peace and non-violence against a government whose only reply is savage attacks on an unarmed and defenseless people.” He continued to direct counterstrikes against strategic government locations before being given a life sentence for sabotage and conspiracy to over throw the government in 1964.
Mandela would not be seen in the public eye for another 27 years, though he would be far from forgotten. While behind bars his image as a revolutionary grew as the apartheid continued to have devastating effects on blacks for decades to come. As South Africa began to tear apart in a civil war like fashion during the 80’s, the white minority national party began to negotiate with Nelson Mandela on terms of congruence for the two parties. In 1990, 72 year old Nelson Mandela was set free, by 1994 Mandela became the first black president of South Africa, and the rest is history from there.
Personally, I look towards Nelson Mandela’s decision to militarize the African National Congress as one of his greatest decisions as a leader. The level of difficulty it would take a man of such non-violent morale as Mandela to come to terms with actions as sabotage and such is beyond imagine. His selfless nature and love for his people were truly exemplified in this decision as Mandela tossed aside any personal views for the securest way to advance his people as a whole. As a collective, humanity can look towards Nelson Mandela’s desire for a peaceful society by means of unlimited dedication as a source of inspiration for the continued advancement of human rights and struggle around the globe. Let his death mark the beginning of an arising awareness amongst humanity. Only then can we truly reach the ideal democratic state that Nelson Mandela dedicated his life to achieving.