December 05, 2013

Nelson Mandela ~ 1918 - 2013

Nelson Mandela has died.

Born July 18, 1918, Mr Mandela was 95 years of age.

I grew up in the time of Nelson Mandela. Though he was in prison for much of my life, his story was a significant part of my growing up and coming of age.

During the 1950s Mr Mandela was banned and arrested for challenging the evil of apartheid. At the beginning of his political life he favoured nonviolent protest. That ended after the famous Treason Trial, the banning of the ANC, and the Sharpeville Massacre, all occurring in 1960, forcing many underground where Mr Mandela and his comrades formed the militant Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), often referred to by the
initials MK.

At the time, the African National Congress was not open to whites, nor to Communists. MK was not so constrained and welcomed members of both, including Communist Party members Rusty Bernstein and Joe Slavo, among others. MK named Mr Mandela its commander-in-chief and went on to wage a bombing campaign throughout the country. Many were arrested. Among them, Mr Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964.

The story of Nelson Mandela was unknown to me in 1964; as a child  the only thing catching my attention was the music of The Beatles. With the events of 1968 we all became politically aware; Mandela's name was known, but he was in  prison and no one really knew what was going on. Was he even alive? It was during 1968 I learned his words given before entering prison four years earlier:

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. 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.”

While Mr Mandela and other ANC and SACP leaders languished in prison, or lived in exile, the young people of South Africa did their best to continue the fight, many under the banner of Steve Biko's Black Consciousness Movement.  Hundreds were killed and thousands were injured before the children's uprising was crushed in 1976. Mr Biko was murdered by police, while in detention, in 1977.

In 1980, the ANC, led by the exiled Oliver Tambo, launched an international campaign against apartheid with the focus on one cause and one person: the demand to release Mr Mandela. It was brilliant. It was peaceful. It worked.

On February 11, 1990 we all watched, and celebrated, when Mr Mandela was finally released from captivity.

Nelson Mandela's story is one of hope and perseverance, of humility and struggle. None of that ends with Mr Mandela's passing. The story continues. As it should.


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