When I was a young girl growing up in South Africa in the 1960s, all I knew about Nelson Mandela was that according to government propaganda of the day, he was a traitor. Words like sabotage and traitor were ascribed to him. I didn’t know the meaning of those newspaper headlines and assumed they were bad. Mandela’s name was definitely not mentioned in our government controlled schools.
It wasn’t till the mid-70s after I had been exiled from South Africa and unstoppable protests and riots broke loose in the country of my birth, through the international press, that I learned who Mandela really was. I learned that he, initially committed to non-violence, co-founded the militant Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), leading a sabotage campaign against the apartheid regime. He was arrested in 1962, and convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the government for which he was sentenced to life imprisonment.
At the Rivonia Trial, in his defense, he made this brave declaration from the dock: “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to see realised, but my lord, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
At the time, while many expected the death sentence for the freedom fighter, Mandela did not die. His destiny was to do greater things. February 11, 1990, was one of those monumental dates written on the history pages when Mandela’s stately figure emerged from the gates of Cape Town’s Victor Verster prison.
Hours after his release, Mandela proclaimed from the Cape Town City Hall balcony to a rapturous crowd teeming on the Grand Parade that he would once and for all end apartheid. “Today, the majority of South Africans, black and white, recognize that apartheid has no future. It has to be ended by our decisive mass action. We have waited too long for our freedom.”
In his ninety five years, Nelson Mandela not only lived to realize the ideal of a democratic and free society but he took an the fearsome juggernaut of apartheid, finally slaying the beast.He was without a doubt born for a time and task such as this. Nelson Mandela died at age 95, on December 5, 2013.
I raise a glass in honour of Mr. Mandela’s birthday, this day July 18, together with Google Doodle, and echo the sentiments of one of Mandela’s sagacious quotes: “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”