End of an era! Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president has died aged 95


Nelson Mandela was
the most famous black man in history.
He transcended race
barriers to become an exemplar of human generosity of spirit. His towering
personality made possible the peaceful transfer of power in South Africa from
white minority to black majority rule.  

If he was less
effective as president of his country than he had been as the symbol of
resistance to apartheid, he demonstrated statesmanship unmatched in Africa.
He inspired love as
much as respect, and became regarded by hundreds of millions of people as a
secular saint.
More was asked of
him, and sometimes claimed for him, than any mortal man could deliver. But the
world has been a fractionally better place, because Nelson Mandela lived in it.
He was born into
African aristocracy, a descendant of kings of the Thembu people, in Transkeiin
His father had four
wives, among whom his mother ranked third.
He was the first of
his family to attend school, and it was his teacher who gave him the English
name Nelson in place of his given name, Rolihlahla.
At 19, he attended
Fort Hare University, where he soon became involved in student politics – or
rather, in organising a boycott of them.
Rejecting a
marriage arranged for him by his tribal elders, he became briefly a mine guard,
then was articled to a Johannesburg law firm.
He began living in
the Alexandra black township, and started law studies at Witwatersrand
University, where he met fellow students and future political activists Ruth
First, Joe Slovo and Harry Schwarz.
Afrikaner-dominated National Party attained power in South Africa’s 1948
Thereafter, its
government set about transforming the country’s longstanding policy of racial
segregation into an ironclad, legally-based system of repression

‘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’ – Nelson Mandela, August 1962

In the early 1950s, Mandela
became deeply involved in radical resistance to apartheid, while he and
fellow-activist Oliver Tambo ran a law firm, offering cheap advice to township

It is hard for a modern generation to conceive what life was like for
black South Africans under apartheid.
They were denied
not merely votes but the most basic human rights. Park benches, buses, beaches
– every public facility – were rigidly segregated, marked by signs: ‘Whites
Sexual relations
between the races were criminalised. Personal residence and movement were
permitted only by licence, the hated ‘pass laws’.

The police, institutionally brutal, treated blacks – and especially
blacks with political aspirations – with contempt and often sadism. 
Dissent was
savagely suppressed. Events came to a head in March 1961, when police opened
fire on a peaceful protest in the Johannesburg township of Sharpeville, killing
69 people.
A few brave whites
sought to tell the world of the crimes being inflicted daily upon an entire
Alan Paton wrote a
hugely influential novel, Cry The Beloved Country, which became a best-seller.

The priest Trevor Huddleston published a moving account of black life,
Naught For Your Comfort, which highlighted the conditions the black community
were forced to endure.
The wonderful Helen
Suzman, a Capetown independent MP, held aloft a lone liberal banner in South
Africa’s parliament. 
But such voices
seemed mere pebbles amid the unyielding rock of Afrikaner repression. So, too,
did Nelson Mandela and his comrades of what became the African National
Congress (ANC).
Mandela was
initially an admirer of India’s Mahatma Gandhi, committed to non-violent
resistance. Yet in 1956, he and 150 others were arrested and charged with

The marathon trial which followed continued until 1961, when all the
defendants were acquitted.
The experience
changed Mandela.
He became convinced
that the whites would never surrender power by peaceful means. He became leader
of the ANC’s armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe – ‘Spear of the Nation’.
In August 1962,
after 17 months living on the run from the police, he was arrested following a
tip-off by the American CIA.

In the dock at his trial, he conducted himself with a dignity and
courage which impressed even his enemies.
He concluded his
defence with a now-famous statement: ‘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.’

In the dock at his trial, he conducted himself with a dignity and
courage which impressed even his enemies.
He concluded his
defence with a now-famous statement: ‘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.’

Occasional foreign visitors permitted to visit him emerged to tell of a
superbly gracious, humorous, thoughtful figure, who never wavered in his
convictions, devoted his life to self-education and planning for a political
In 1985, apartheid
president P.W.Botha offered Mandela freedom, if he would renounce armed
South Africa faced
international sanctions and increasing economic difficulties. It was becoming
plain that Mandela the captive represented a force in the world as powerful as
the whites’ edifice of tyranny.

Mandela dismissed Botha’s offer, saying: ‘What freedom am I being
offered while the organisation of the people remains banned? Only free men can
negotiate. A prisoner cannot enter into contracts.’
Four years later,
his patient defiance was at last rewarded. President FW de Klerk announced the
lifting of the ban on the ANC.  
On February 11,
1990, Mandela walked free into Cape Town, amid scenes of euphoric rejoicing not
only among black South Africans, but across the world.
In a superb speech,
he declared his hope that a negotiated settlement would soon bring to an end
the conditions which made armed struggle against apartheid necessary.
So it proved.

Tension and violence mounted in the months and years that followed, as
Mandela negotiated with de Klerk for a new political dispensation.
But on 17 April
1994, South Africa’s first election was held under universal suffrage. The
prisoner of Robben Island became president with an overwhelming mandate.
Apartheid, white minority power, became history.
The great
revelation in the years of Mandela’s rise to power was of the man himself. He
had been invisible for almost 30 years. No one knew what manner of leader would
emerge from behind the prison wall.
Would he prove a
raging revolutionary, an embittered demagogue bent on revenge against his white
Africa’s freedom
from colonial rule has been compromised and often rendered a mockery by many
black tyrants, indeed monsters.

Nelson Mandela commanded a prestige that conferred upon him power over
the richest society in the continent such as no other African leader had known,
to use or abuse as he chose.
What emerged seemed
to many white South Africans, and to the watching world, almost miraculous.
demonstrated a combination of strength and modesty, authority and moderation,
extraordinary in any man, least of all one who had suffered so much for so
He preached a
gospel of social reconciliation and economic prudence. His measured stewardship
awed watching nations.
His rhetoric was
extraordinary in its strength, sense, and decency. When he began to travel as
president, he enthralled national leaders and their peoples wherever he went.

He emerged as the foremost spokesman of the Third World, the face of
Africa. His dominance of his own country’s politics was absolute from his
accession to the presidency until his retirement from office in 1999.
Yet Mandela had his
plentiful share of sorrows even after his release from prison and taking power.
Only one daughter
survived from his first marriage, which ended in divorce in 1957.
Another daughter
died as a baby, one son was killed in a car crash, and the other died of AIDS.
He married his second wife Winnie, Johnannesburg’s first black social worker,
in 1958.
During his
imprisonment, she became famous and powerful as the voice of her absent
husband. But following his liberation, her avarice and thuggery brought shame
upon the ANC, and grief and embarrassment to her husband.

They were divorced in 1996. Two years later, on his 80th birthday, he
married Graca Michael, widow of the former president of Mozambique.
As president,
Mandela triumphed as a symbol of national reconciliation between South Africa’s
races. His government displayed adopted economic policies which preserved white
confidence, and allowed the country’s wealth to grow.
But he failed to
control his satraps.
Under his regime,
the ANC leadership became a byword for corruption, as it remains to this day.
After generations in which black politicians were denied a share of the cake,
they set about seizing spoils with the same ruthlessness which prevails
throughout the continent.
The menace of AIDS
was allowed to spread unchecked, worsening when Mandela surrendered power to
his former deputy, Thabo Mbeki, who denied medication and even AIDS education
to his people.

Although Mandela made plain his distaste for neighbouring Zimbabwe’s
tyrant Robert Mugabe, he could not bring himself to break openly with a fellow
South Africa alone
possessed power and stature to depose Mugabe. Neither Mandela nor Mbeki would
Mandela presided
with extraordinary success over the transfer of political power to South
Africa’s black majority.

However, he failed – unsurprisingly, given the magnitude of the task –
to begin to fulfil their aspirations for jobs, education, a share of white
In today’s South
Africa, a teeming multitude of impoverished and increasingly desperate people
say, ‘votes are very fine, but who owns the cars and big houses and swimming
Crime has soared.
Official corruption has become institutionalised.
The potential for
unrest, even instability, is very real. Some of this, at least, must be
attributed to Mandela’s failure to secure a legacy. He showed himself a weak
executive ruler, failing to deploy his unique influence and indeed power as he
might have done.
But to say this is
probably to ask too much of any mortal man, whose achievement was anyway
For generations,
the world feared that white South Africa would relinquish power only amid
torrents of blood.
Though the country
has indeed seen some shocking violence, it was Nelson Mandela’s personal
triumph that a cataclysm was averted.
He set an example
of forgiveness and statesmanship which has been an inspiration to mankind,
recognised in a host of global honours and accolades of which the 1993 Nobel
Peace Prize was foremost.
To the end of his
life, he remained one of the planet’s most admired inhabitants, commemorated by
statues in a hundred countries, most notably in London’s Parliament Square.
In a poignant final
twist, he died on the night of the UK premiere of a film, Mandela: Long Walk To
Freedom, that portrays his struggle and rise.
He accomplished the
transition from reluctant revolutionary to statesman with grace, wit and charm.
He showed the world
that Africa can produce greatness.
If the continent
could breed even a handful of other leaders possessed of a fraction of his
nobility of spirit, it might gain remission from the sentence of misery to
which it seems condemned.


1918 July 18: Rolihlahla Dalibhunga Mandela is born a
member of the Madiba clan in Eastern Cape of South Africa. His tribal name,
‘Rolihalah’, means ‘troublemaker’. He is later given his English name, Nelson,
by a teacher at his school
1919 His father is dispossessed of his land and
money on the orders of a white magistrate
1927 His father dies and the the acting chief of
the Thembu clan, Jongintaba Dalindyebo becomes his guardian.
1937 Moves to Healdtown, attending the Wesleyan
college in Fort Beaufort.
Starts at Fort Hare University where meets his lifelong friend and future fellow
activist Oliver Tambo
1939 He is asked to leave Fort Hare due to his
involvement in a boycott of the Students’ Representative Council against the
university policies.
He then moves to
Johannesburg to escape an arranged marriage and suffers his first experiences
of the system of apartheid.
He spent the next
few years working as a guard at a mine and then a clerk at a law firm before
continuing his studies
1943 Joins the African National Congress (ANC) as
an activist.
1944 Forms the Youth League of the ANC with
Oliver Tambo and Walter Sislu
Later that year he
gets married for the first time, to Evelyn Ntoko Mase, with whom he has three
1948 The apartheid policy is introduced across
the country the ruling Afrikaner-dominated National Party
1952 Mandela opens the first black legal firm in
South Africa with Oliver Tambo providing free or low-cost legal counsel to many
blacks who would otherwise have been without legal representation.
1955 Freedom Charter adopted at the Congress of
the People calling for equal rights and a program of the anti-apartheid cause
1956 December 5: Accused of conspiring to
overthrow the South African state by violent means with 155 other political
activists and charged with high treason. The Treason Trial of 1956–61 follows
and all were acquitted
1957 His marriage of 13 years to his first wife
Evelyn Ntoko Mase breaks up
The same year he marries Nomzamo ‘Winnie’ Madikizela, a social worker, and the
couple have two children.
1959 Parliament passes new laws extending racial
segregation by creating separate homelands for  major black groups in
South Africa
1960 69 peaceful protesters are killed by police
in the Sharpeville Massacre; in the aftermath the ANC is banned, prompting
Mandela to go into hiding. While in hiding he forms an underground military
group with armed resistance
1962 After living on the run for seventeen months
he is arrested on August 5 and imprisoned in the Johannesburg Fort. On October
25 he is sentenced to five years in prison but again goes on the run
1964 On June 12 Mandela is captured and convicted
of sabotage and treason. He is sentenced to life imprisonment at the age of 46,
initially on Robben island where he would be kept for 18 years
1968 His mother dies and his eldest son is killed
in a car crash but he is not allowed to attend either of the funerals
1980 The exiled Oliver Tambo launches an
international campaign for the release of his friend
1986 Sanctions against South Africa are
tightened, costing millions in revenue
1990 On February 11, Nelson Mandela is released
from prison after 27 years. He had served the last part of his sentence in
Victor Verster Prison in Paarl.
President De Klerk
lifts the ban on the African National Congress (ANC). The ANC and the white
National Party begin talks on forming a multi-racial democracy for South
1991 Mandela becomes President of the ANC. The
International Olympic Committee lift a 21-year ban on South African athletes
competing in the Olympic Games.
1992 He separates from Winnie Mandela after she
is convicted of kidnapping and being an accessory to assault. The following
March they divorce.
1993 Nelson Mandela and Mr de Klerk are awarded
the Nobel Peace Prize
1994 April 26 Free Elections where black South Africans
are allowed to vote for the first time.
Nelson Mandela runs
for President and the ANC win 252 of the 400 seats in the national assembly
May Mandela is inaugurated as the first black
president of South Africa. He appoints de Klerk as deputy president and forms
the racially mixed Government of National Unity.
1995 South Africa hosts the 1995 Rugby World Cup
and South Africa wins. Nelson Mandela wears a Springbok shirt when he presents
the trophy to Afrikaner captain Francois Pienaar. This gesture was seen as a
major step in the reconciliation of white and black South Africans.
1998 Marries Graca Machel, the widow of the
former president of Mozambique, on his 80th birthday.
1999 Relinquishes presidency in favour of Thabo
Mbeki, who was nominated ANC president in 1997.
2001 Nelson Mandela was diagnosed and treated for
prostate cancer
2004 June: Nelson Mandela announced that he would be
retiring from public life at the age of 85
2005 His son, Makgatho Mandela died of AIDS
2010 Mandela makes a rare public appearance at
the football World Cup in South Africa

2012 An increasingly frail Mandela is admitted to
hospital twice in February and December

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