December 9, 2013
Remembering Nelson Mandela
In the days since the passing of former South African President, anti-apartheid leader and global icon, Nelson Mandela, the world has seen an outpouring of reflection, inspired words and support, for the man many called “the father of South Africa”. A National Prayer Day was declared in South Africa on Sunday, which saw both secular and multi-faith gatherings held at mosques, synagogues, churches, community halls, schools, and outdoor public spaces. South Africans of all ethnicities came together to give eulogies and to remember Nelson Mandela for his life’s work.
Nelson Mandela, who was also widely known by his Xhosa name Madiba, was born into the Themby royal family in Umtatu, South Africa. He attended Hare University and the University of Witwatersrand to study law. It was as a lawyer that his work led him to become involved with the African National Congress (ANC) in 1952 and with the mass civil rights protests and armed struggles of 1960’s apartheid. He was arrested on multiple occasions for his activism, and in 1962 he was convicted with conspiracy to overthrow the state and was sentenced to life in prison.
It was there in prison that his commitment to equality and racial harmony really shone. During his trial he made the statement:
“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.”
Over his 27 years of imprisonment Nelson Mandela became a global symbol for the anti-apartheid movement and was frequently visited by politicians and world leaders before his eventual release in 1990. It was then that Nelson Mandela put aside any personal resentment and reached out to South African President FW de Klerk, with whom he negotiated a peaceful end to apartheid oppression and established the first inclusive multi-racial elections. Nelson Mandela went on to win these elections in 1994, becoming South Africa’s first black and democratically elected President. The two South African Presidents went on to receive a Nobel Peace Prize, which they share.
Their legacy is that South Africa today has a new constitution with one of the world’s most progressive human rights codes, written by former enemies who came together in peace to build a new nation.
To show final respects on behalf of all Canadians, a delegation led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper is on its way to South Africa to attend the state funeral ceremonies taking place on Tuesday and Wednesday in Johannesburg. This delegation includes a host of former Canadian Prime Ministers, including Jean Cretien, Kim Campbell, Joe Clarke (who is already in Africa), and Brian Mulroney – a man who played a pivotal role at the United Nations and among Commonwealth leaders in advocating an end to apartheid and the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in the 1980’s. This was so much the case that once released from prison, Nelson Mandela immediately arrived in Canada to address both Houses of Parliament and express his deep gratitude for Canada’s role in securing his freedom. Nelson Mandela often spoke of his great appreciation for and fascination with the ideals of Canadian society.
Over his life Nelson Mandela went from civil rights activist to President to elder statesman. He went on to receive more than 250 accolades and awards. He was presented with the Order of Canada, the highest honour in Canada. Nelson Mandela was also the first ever living person to be granted Honorary Canadian Citizenship. Late in his career he worked tirelessly on the HIV/AIDS crisis and on combating poverty through his Nelson Mandela Foundation. He was a leader, a role model and a “father” figure to many individuals and nations alike. Perhaps American President Barack Obama said it best in his reflection on Nelson Mandela:
“He no longer belongs to us – he belongs to the ages.”
To say he will be missed is an understatement.
Nelson ‘Madiba’ Mandela (July 18, 1928 – December 5, 2013).