Newsday Tuesday: R.I.P Nelson Mandela

I swear, I didn’t want to write on deaths two weeks in a row, but I simply couldn’t honor Paul Walker without also honoring Nelson Mandela. Hopefully next week we will have some happier news!

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What is there to say about Nelson Mandela that hasn’t been said? I’ll admit, I never studied him in school (my high school didn’t teach me a lot of things), but because I do not live under a rock, I know who he is and vaguely what he did. Before I commence research, this is what I know: He lived in South Africa, was the president of said country for a term, and helped liberate many, many people from oppression and apartheid. After research, I am astounded at all the things this single man accomplished in his lifetime. If I wrote about everything, I’d just be copying from nelsonmandela.org, and if I tried to put it all in my own words, it would take all night. So let’s summarize, shall we?

Nelson Mandela was born in 1918, in South Africa, to the principal counselor of the king of the Thembu tribe. His father died while he was still a child, and it was the stories of his father as a valiant war hero that inspired Mandela to join the fight against his oppressive government.

He attended six universities in his lifetime, but only completed two bachelor’s degrees, a result of being a self-professed poor student.

He was married three times, in 1944, 1958, and 1998.

He and Oliver Tambo established the first black law firm in South Africa in 1952.

Also in 1952, he was banned from South Africa for acts of “treason” against a corrupt state. Unfazed, he came back, of course.

After coming back and organizing uprisings against the state, urging for a reform of the government system, he was charged with leaving the country illegally. You know something is wrong when your government won’t let you stay nor leave, simply because you want to make things better. Over and over, he fought to free the oppressed black South Africans from their corrupt leaders, and over and over, the government arrested, convicted, and banned him. He never gave up.

In the trial that led to him being imprisoned from 1964 to 1990, he said this: “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.” 

But die, he didn’t. He was released from prison 9 days after the unbanning of the ANC (African National Congress, which he had joined in 1944, while becoming increasingly politically involved) and the PAC (Pan Africanist Congress). While he was in prison, Mandela’s supporters had paved the way for a new government, one that kept the best interest of its people in mind. In 1991, he was elected ANC president, he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, and in 1994, he voted for the first time. Also in 1994, he was inaugurated as South Africa’s first democratically elected president. He only served one term, as he intended, and set up numerous charities that still thrive today.

Nelson Mandela’s story is one of perseverance and determination, of fighting for what’s right no matter what gets in your way. His actions saved countless lives and inspired others to save even more. His story continues (and will always continue) to inspire those who stand against oppression and racism. I know it inspires me.

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