Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa, has died at the age of 95 from a lung infection. He had previously battled tuberculosis while imprisoned in the late 1980s. Yahoo News offers a capsule summary of his career:
Born Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela in Transkei, South Africa on July 18, 1918, he was one of the world’s most revered statesmen and revolutionaries who led the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. A qualified lawyer from the University College of Fort Hare and the University of Witwatersrand, Mandela served as the President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999.
His political career started in 1944 when he joined the African National Congress (ANC) and participated in the resistance against the then government¹s apartheid policy in 1948. In June 1961, the ANC executive approved his idea of using violent tactics and encouraged members who wished to involve themselves in Mandela’s campaign. Shortly after, he founded Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the ANC and was named its leader.
In 1962, he was arrested and convicted of sabotage and other charges, and sentenced to five years of rigorous imprisonment. In 1963, Mandela was brought to stand trial along with many fellow members of Umkhonto we Sizwe for conspiring against the government and plotting to overthrow it by the use of violence.
On June 12, 1964, eight of the accused, including Mandela, were sentenced to life imprisonment.
His statement from the dock at the opening of the defense trial became extremely popular. He closed his statement with: “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to the 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.”
Mandela served 27 years in prison from 1964 to 1982, spending many of those years at Robben Island Prison, off Cape Town. While in jail, his reputation grew and he became widely known across the world as the most significant black leader in South Africa.
“Rolihlahla,” incidentally, means “troublemaker” according to CBS News.
Mandela accumulated many honors for his struggle against apartheid, including the Nobel Peace Prize and the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom. His death was announced by the current president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, as related by CNN:
“He is now resting. He is now at peace,” Zuma said. “Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father.”
“What made Nelson Mandela great was precisely what made him human,” the president said in his late-night address. “We saw in him what we seek in ourselves.”
Mandela will have a state funeral. Zuma ordered all flags in the nation to be flown at half-staff from Friday through that funeral.
CNN notes that Mandela was unusual among African leaders in serving only a brief term of power, whereas many other leaders on the continent “overstayed their welcomes and remained in office for years, sometimes decades” – a rather delicate way to describe the sort of squalid dictatorship mercifully avoided by Mandela and his partner in peace, South African president F.W. de Klerk, who received the Nobel prize with him.
Despite chronic political violence in the years preceding the vote that put him in office in 1994, South Africa avoided a full-fledged civil war in its transition from apartheid to multiparty democracy. The peace was due in large part to the leadership and vision of Mandela and de Klerk.
“We were expected by the world to self-destruct in the bloodiest civil war along racial grounds,” Mandela said during a 2004 celebration to mark a decade of democracy in South Africa.
“Not only did we avert such racial conflagration, we created amongst ourselves one of the most exemplary and progressive nonracial and nonsexist democratic orders in the contemporary world.”
USA Today quotes President Obama’s statement on Mandela’s passing:
“He achieved more than can be expected of any one man,” Obama said.
Mandela now “belongs to the ages,” Obama said at the White House within an hour of the announcement of Mandela’s death.
The president noted that his very first political speech concerned apartheid in South Africa, and he has studied Mandela’s writings throughout his career in government.
“I cannot imagine my own life without Mandela’s example,” said the nation’s first African-American president.
Former president George W. Bush, who awarded Mandela the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002, also released a statement:
Laura and I join the people of South Africa and the world in celebrating the life of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. President Mandela was one of the great forces for freedom and equality of our time. He bore his burdens with dignity and grace, and our world is better off because of his example. This good man will be missed, but his contributions will live on forever. Laura and I send our heartfelt sympathy to President Mandela???s family and to the citizens of the nation he loved.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, another leader in the fight against apartheid, said of Nelson Mandela: “He could so very easily have led our country down the road of retribution and revenge, and we would have been up a creek.” That’s a fine epitaph for someone who chose a better path when a darker, easier, angrier road was available, and was able to remain humble among those who revered him. He outlasted tyranny, which grew exhausted from trying to break him.
Update: President Obama paid tribute to Mandela in his own special way… with a picture of himself, plus a quote from himself. Little did Nelson Mandela dream that he would be held in a cell where Barack Obama would stand one day.
Update: Twitchy put together a collection of hilarious Photoshops mocking Obama’s narcissistic “tribute” to Mandela. This one’s my favorite:
Update: Mandela was one of those global figures who got a lot of things wrong – sometimes very badly wrong – but what he got right secured his place in history. If you want a concise list of things he got wrong, you can’t do better than Buzzfeed’s “7 Nelson Mandela Quotes You Probably Won’t See In the US Media.”
Joel Pollak has a long, level-headed look at both the good and bad parts of Mandela history at Breitbart News. Pollak, who has lived in South Africa, discussed his piece on the air with radio host Mark Levin last night, and also wrote a blog post explaining “Why conservatives should celebrate Nelson Mandela.”
Personally, I admire anyone who refuses to submit to tyranny, and think the world could always use more mockingjays. Also, to emphasize a point Pollak makes at length, you’re really got to look at the rest of Africa when you judge what Mandela and de Klerk did for South Africa. It’s not damning Mandela with faint praise to say that post-apartheid South Africa could have been a lot worse.