Nelson Mandela, the universally revered former President of South Africa, revolutionary, Nobel Peace Prize winner and iconic leader of the Anti-Apartheid movement, has died, at the age of 95 after years of declining health. The death of a man as widely loved and admired as figures such as the Dalai Lama, Ghandi and Martin Luther King will surely be felt around the world.
After spending 27 years in prison for his attempts to overthrow a deeply racist and oppressive South African Government at the beginning of the 1960’s, Mandela went on to become the first black president of South Africa and the first president elected in a fully multi-racial election.
Often described as “the father of the nation” Mandela was an inspiring figure. His release from prison is still the most vivid memory I have of a school assembly. I was only 6 at the time but I still remember my head teacher announcing Mandela’s release in front of the whole school and telling us all about Mandela’s story and I don’t even remember the Berlin Wall coming down so that says a lot for the impact this had on my life.
Following his release from prison, which was televised world wide, Mandela oversaw the rebuilding and reconciliation of a divided nation. He travelled the world encouraging foreign countries to support a free South Africa and led negotiations with the Afrikaner Apartheid regime to introduce democratic, fully representative elections to South Africa. He dedicated his life to creating peace between the black and white populations of South Africa and bringing an end to oppression.
In 1994 the first fully democratic elections took place and, as leader of the ANC party, Mandela was elected as South Africa’s first black president. He set about creating a ‘Government of National Unity’ seeing national reconciliation as his priority. He set out to create the broadest possible representation in his cabinet appointing a number of former government officials as ministers alongside members of the ANC – a feat not even achieved by many peaceful nations.
In what I consider to be one of the most inspiring acts in history, Mandela personally met with senior figures of the apartheid regime, that had imprisoned him for almost three decades, to offer forgiveness and reconciliation. His famous words “Courageous people do not fear forgiving for the sake of peace.” and his ability to bear 27 years of incarceration with dignity and then to forgive those who imprisoned him and oppressed his people should be an example for everyone. He was a truly extraordinary human being and the world would certainly be a worse place without his influence.
A symbol of perseverance, patience, belief, dignity, freedom and equality, he will always be an influence in my life and his passing will be mourned by millions but his legacy will live on. If ever there was a man that changed and inspired the world, it is Nelson Mandela.
I will end this post with the poem that inspired and empowered Mandela during his imprisonment, as it really is inspiring. You may recognise it from the film of the same name staring Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman.
Invitcus by William Ernest Henley
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul
Rest in Peace Madiba