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PRESIDENT NELSON ROLIHLAHLA MANDELA

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela is undoubtedly Africa's greatest son, and in my opinion, the man of the 20th century. He is commonly referred to in African circles, and rightfully so, as Shujaa Nelson Mandela. Shujaa is swahili for "brave". Though a native of South Africa, Mandela's stature has grown so big that he has transcended all national boundaries and become a global role model. The mention of his name evokes memories of other legendary leaders like Mahatma Gandhi. Mandela's immeasurable significance to Africa and the world goes far beyond his role as a revolutionary leader. He has shone so bright as an African, at a time when the black race has been stereotyped with the world's ills. That a person with his stature and dignity could bud and flourish in the so called "dark continent" has ashamed those who have constantly talked down the African continent and propelled the false notion that nothing good could ever come out of Africa. Well Mandela is not just good, he is the best. His story also serves as a huge eye-opener to black people worldwide about the hypocrisy of the so-called "western democracies". You will be very surprised to note that while these western governments paid lip service to Mandela's African National Congress in its fight against apartheid, it is leaders like Fidel Castro of Cuba, Yasser Arafat of the PLO, and Mu'ammar Gadhafi of Libya who gave him real support. Yeah the so-called "dictators". Mandela being the great man that he is, has never shyed away from his real friends and made sure they got the front seats during his presidential inauguration ceremony in 1994.

Mandela was born on July 18th 1918 at Qunu village, near Umtata, in the Transkei. Mandela's father Henry Mgadla Mandela, was chief counselor to Thembuland paramount chief, David Dalindyebo. With his father's death, Mandela became the chief's ward and was being groomed for chieftainship. Apparently, growing up in the royal Kraal of his Madiba clan, he was already being groomed to become advisor to the King of Thembus. Evidently, the dignity and class with which he carries himself springs from his royal upbringing. It is during his days as a young boy that his community's elders told him stories about his great forefathers who fought the white man for their homeland. At the infamous Rivonia Mass Treason Trial of 1964, Mandela mentioned the names of Dingane and Bambata, Hintsa and Makhana, Squingthi and Dalasile, some of his prominent ancestors who fought hard for African justice. During the same trial Mandela also released a famous statement that ended with the words:- 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 can 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 received his elementary education at a local mission school and later proceeded to Healdtown, a reputable high school. On successful completion of his high school education, he enrolled at the University College of Fort Hare, to pursue a Bachelor of Arts Degree. People who knew him during his days as a student at Fort Hare describe him as a tall and strikingly well-dressed gentleman. It is at Fort Hare that Mandela met Oliver Tambo, another prominent South African freedom fighter who would become Mandela's close ally and confidant. Tambo rose to prominence in 1941 for organising the strike at Fort Hare protesting against a boarding master who had kicked one of the dining hall maids.Tambo was already an activist as a student at Fort Hare, but Mandela's activism began later in Johannesburg, when he was studying by correspondence after being suspended from Fort Hare for participating in a protest boycott. Other than this boycott, his student life was pretty quiet as compared to many political activists who evolve on college campuses. He completed his studies by correspondence and then commenced study for his Law Degree.

Mandela joined the ANC in 1942, but his political roots can be traced to the formation of the Youth League in 1944. The Youth League was a radical wing within the ANC, that favoured a "more aggressive" action in dealing with the white establishment as opposed to plain diplomacy. They were also considered to be exclusionary in that they wanted control of the ANC to rest squarely upon black South Africans, locking out the Asians and other racial groups interested in the party. At its inception, the Youth League was led by Anton Lembede, and comprised other prominent figures like Oliver Tambo, Mandela, William Nkomo, Walter Sisulu, and Ashby P. Mda. The ANC was a very inclusive party and had in its rank and file a lot of Indians, majority of whom were Communists. The Youth League was anti-communist and it accused them of hijacking the freedom struggle from the blacks. It therefore created a rift within the ANC, and Mandela was right in the middle of it. He was often at odds with prominent Indian Communist leaders like Yusuf Chachalia. The Youth League, as its name suggests was an attempt by Mandela and the then youths to revitalise the ANC, which they felt was too soft and would never get any attention from the government. It was their contention that the old guards of the party were wasting time with their "polite petitioning" to the government of the day and that there was need for a more aggressive approach. Among the tactics they advocated were boycotts, strikes, civil disobedience, and non-cooperation. In 1947, Mandela was elected Secretary of the Youth League, and in 1949, obviously annoyed by the government's all-white elections, the ANC adopted the Youth League's tactics as official party policy. All these were laid out in the Youth League's Programme of action, which advocated for among other things, full citizenship and direct parliamentary representation for all South Africans. Education, Labour Unions and Land rights were other major issues outlined in the document.

In 1952, Mandela was elected national volunteer-in-chief of the 1952 Defiance Campaign and travelled around the country organising resistance to discriminatory legislation. By this time Mandela and Tambo had also formed the first black legal firm. Efforts by the Transvaal Law Society to strike him off the roll of attorneys was struck off by the Supreme Court. The ANC was banned in 1960 after the Sharpeville Massacre, after which Mandela went underground. His underground operations that later became a game of cat and mouse with the SouthAfrican police earned him the title Black Pimpernel. In 1961, Umkhoto wa Sizwe, the militant wing of the ANC was formed, and just like Kenya's Mau Mau, was a result of the frustrations the Africans felt following their fruitless peaceful attempts at reforms. Mandela left for Algeria in 1952 to get millitary training for MK and also to secure the support of other African freedom fighters. On his return to the country in 1962, he was arrested and imprisoned for two years for leaving the country illegally and for incitement to strike. While serving his sentence he was charged with sabotage at the Rivonia Trial and sentenced to life imprisonment. He was imprisoned at the now famous Robben Island, a prison that later became a center of political learning, with Mandela at the center of it all. Prison never softened Mandela who during the 70's received numerous conditional offers of release from prison. The most notable one was the Bantustan policy that would offer independence to the Transkei and allow Mandela to settle freely there. Mandela stuck to his original goal, which was freedom for all South Africans. He received another offer in the 80's from PW Botha if he renounced violence, but turned it down. On February 11th 1990, shortly after his release from prison, he renounced all armed struggle. He holds more than 50 honorary degrees from international Universities and is the chancellor of the University of the North. In 1993, on behalf of all Africans and human rights defenders, he accepted the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize. He became the first truly democratically elected President of South Africa in 1994 and retired from public life in 1999. He currently enjoys a quiet and private life in his birth place, Qunu in the Transkei.

Mandela, you have been an inspiration to Africans and others around the world who have been subjects of senseless oppression and deprivation. Your life symbolizes the triumph of the human spirit over man's inhumanity to man. GOD BLESS YOU, great son of Africa.

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