Nelson Mandela, an icon, world statesman, a remarkable man of great vision and courage, dies at 95

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By Juanita Bratcher

Former South African President Nelson Mandela died Thursday after a recurring bout with a lung infection. Mandela was 95 years old.

In making the announcement of Mandela’s death, South African President Jacob Zuma said their nation has lost its greatest son. Mandela “is now at peace…Our people have lost a father.”

Well revered as a statesman throughout the world, Mandela, an anti-apartheid leader and Nobel Laureate, spent 27 years in prison, after being sentenced to life imprisonment on June 12, 1964, along with seven others accused of plotting to overthrow South Africa’s apartheid government. After his imprisonment, there was a long battle cry by anti-apartheid activists to “Free Nelson Mandela”.

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born on July 18, 1918 in Transkei, South Africa. He joined the African National Congress in 1944. In 1948 he began his activism against South Africa’s apartheid policy.

South African President P.W. Botha offered Mandela his freedom in February 1985 on condition that he unconditionally reject violence as a political weapon but Mandela rejected that proposal.

Said Mandela: “What freedom am I being offered while the organization of the people remains banned? Only free men can negotiate. A prisoner cannot enter into contracts,” he wrote. In 1988, Mandela was moved to Victor Verster Prison and remained there until his release.

He was released from prison in 1990, and in 1994 became the first black president of South Africa. He retired from the post in 1999 after serving a single term in office.

In 1993, Nelson Mandela and South African President F.W. de Klerk, were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

In a released statement on Mandela’s death, President Barack Obama said through Mandela’s “fierce dignity and unbending will to sacrifice his own freedom for the freedom of others, Madiba transformed South Africa — and moved all of us. His journey from a prisoner to a President embodied the promise that human beings — and countries — can change for the better.  His commitment to transfer power and reconcile with those who jailed him set an example that all humanity should aspire to, whether in the lives of nations or our own personal lives.  And the fact that he did it all with grace and good humor, and an ability to acknowledge his own imperfections, only makes the man that much more remarkable.  As he once said, ‘I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.’ “

On April 27, 1994, South Africa held its first multiracial elections, ANC’s Mandela won and was inaugurated in May 1994, becoming South Africa’s first black president.

In my yet unreleased book, “Lest We Never Forget: The Power of the Ballot” ©, I discussed the 1994 election held in South Africa, in “One-Man, One-Vote Reality in South Africa”, as follows:

“I am mindful of the first multiracial election held in South Africa in 1994, after years of minority rule, when Black South Africans voted for the first time in that country, after 341 years of white rule, even though Blacks there had always been in the majority.

“I remember watching a televised program of that first multiracial election. As I sat staring relentlessly at the television screen, visually taking in the long lines of blacks waiting in the ‘scorching’, hot sun for well over eight hours to cast their ballots, my mind resonated over their obvious victory in gaining the right to cast their ballot; and the emotional gladness of realizing that the long battle to get there had finally come to an end, but knowing full-well that in their hearts and souls that this was just the beginning of many more new challenges ahead. It was a stark reality to them that their struggle for the right to vote had finally come into fruition; that history was in the making.

“And I, like many other Americans, rejoiced along with them. Many of those rejoicing Americans had been cogs in the wheel in helping them to push for this victory, this historical moment in history.

“Three-hundred-forty-one years of white rule and domination was going up in smoke, and a new day dawning – the phoenix. And for the first time in the history of this apartheid regime, one man, one vote had become a reality.

“While the white minority owned 98 percent of the wealth in South Africa, the black majority had been denied both the ballot and political power.

“The first multiracial election in South Africa was long overdue. The country’s population stood at 75.2 percent Black, 13.6 percent White, 8.6 percent Colored (racially mixed), and 2.6 percent Indian.

“The number of eligible voters was placed at 22.7 million – 18 million of which were first-time Black voters. The country’s 9,000 polling places were swamped with voters, and heavily guarded during the three-day election.

“Nomaza Paintin, niece of South African President Nelson Mandela, was the first Black to cast a vote in the multiracial election, which she cast in New Zealand, the place where she had lived for the past eight years.

“Mandela and Black South Africans were aware of the power of the ballot, even though, heretofore, they had been denied the right to vote in South Africa.

“So in 1994, after years of being denied the privilege and the right to vote – Black South Africans, with their new political power and new political strength, prevailed and elected Nelson Mandela president after 341 years of white rule and domination. It was a new day, and the old way of doing business would be a thing of the past.

“On May 10, 1994, Mandela, at the age of 75, was sworn-in as president of South Africa, four years after he was released from Victor Verster Prison on February 11, 1990. He was incarcerated for 27 years.

“Declaring “Let freedom reign,” Mandela was sworn-in before some 50,000 people, including dignitaries from more than 150 countries. Black South Africans danced in the streets! It had been a long time coming!

“Nikosi Sikeli Afrika (God Bless America) was echoed all over the land as new changes were taking place, i.e., a new president, Constitution and Charter. South Africa’s 66-year-old flag, the Tricolor Standard, had its last gasp of apartheid breath going into oblivion.

“What was happening in South Africa now was an eye-opener for African Americans in America, some of whom were too young or unfamiliar with the ‘60s civil rights movement, voter registration drives and protest marches – other than through history books or other means – in their own country, America. It was a refresher course for those who lived it, and perhaps a stark revelation for those who knew little or nothing about it.

“In their attempt to register to vote, African Americans were faced with billy clubs, tear gas and water hoses. They were turned away by the Bull Connors of Alabama who would deny them their right to vote as American citizens.”

Juanita Bratcher is an Award-Winning Journalist, Author, Editor & Publisher of CopyLine Magazine

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