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Breaking: The world has lost one of its best. Vale Nelson Mandela.

Nelson Mandela

There are few people in the world who truly deserve the title of ‘hero.’

But today the world has lost someone who is exactly that. Nelson Mandela, the former President of South Africa, who has been a symbol of resistance, peace and moral leadership for decades died today at the age of 95.

Mandela’s unwavering commitment to fighting apartheid and oppression in South Africa won him love and respect the world over.

His support of countless international humanitarian causes over many decades only further exemplified the power of compassion and conviction this man had.

Each and every one of us, regardless of nationality, gender or age, can take something from his legacy.

So let’s take a moment today, as we mourn his passing, to also remember and acknowledge the tremendous contribution Mandela made to our world.

Nelson Mandela was born as Rolihlahla Mandela on July 18, 1918 in the South African province of Transkei. His father, known as Henry, was a principal counsellor to the Thembu royal family. Mandela was the first member of his family to attend school, and it was a teacher at his primary school in Qunu who gave him the English name Nelson.

Mandela commenced a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Fort Hare, but was asked to leave when he joined in a student boycott of university policy.  He eventually completed his Bachelor of Arts through the University of South Africa and studied law at the University of Witwatersrand. He later founded a law firm, Mandela and Tambo, with his friend and fellow Fort Hare alumni Oliver Tambo. The pair provided low-cost counsel to black Africans who could not afford representation.

In 1944 Mandela joined the African National Congress (ANC), a multi-racial nationalist movement advocating change within South Africa, and was instrumental in forming the ANC Youth League.

A young Mandela

Following the 1948 election, the Afrikaner-dominated National Party came to power and began implementing laws of apartheid – i.e. forced segregation based on race – causing the ANC to stage a passive resistance campaign.

As the government’s discrimination intensified, the organisation began to adopt the more radical approach advocated by the Youth League including boycotts, strikes and civil disobedience. Mandela, inspired by the ethos of Mahatma Ghandi, aimed for non-violent resistance. In 1956, he and 150 fellow activists were tried for treason; the trial lasted five years and resulted in their acquittal.

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The Sharpeville Massacre in 1960, in which police opened fire during an anti-apartheid demonstration, killing 69 people, provoked the Government to declare a state of emergency and ban the activities of the ANC. In response, the ANC abandoned its policy of non-violence. Mandela co-founded the organisation’s armed military wing, ‘Spear of the Nation’, after his proposal in favour of adopting violent tactics was approved.

In 1962, Mandela was arrested and sentenced to five years in jail for orchestrating a workers’ strike and leaving the country illegally. He was brought to trial again in 1963 and, along with a group of ANC figures, was sentenced to life imprisonment for sabotage and other political offences. His statement from the dock ended with the following, now immortal, words:

“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.”

During his 27 years in jail, where he was largely subject to hard labour, Mandela’s international reputation as a symbol of resistance grew. Although he was offered release in 1985, Mandela refused to compromise his political position and commitment to armed resistance in exchange for freedom.

The South African government came under intense pressure both within Africa and abroad for his release, and Mandela finally walked free in February 1990. The ban on the ANC was simultaneously abolished by president F.W. de Klerk, and in 1991 Mandela became the party’s leader.

Mandela with de Klerk

After two years of peaceful negotiations in the face of violent massacres and assassinations, Mandela and de Klerk jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. Their efforts eventually led to the end of apartheid and the development of a constitution for a democratic government free of racial discrimination.

At the age of 75, Mandela became South Africa’s first black president in the country’s first multi-racial election in 1994, with de Klerk as his deputy. During his presidency, which he voluntarily retired from in 1999, reconciling racial tensions remained a priority.

Post presidency, Mandela used his influence to support a number of humanitarian causes, primarily the fight against AIDS (the disease which claimed the life of one of his sons in 2005) and world poverty. He retired from public life in 2004.

His endless campaign for the freedom of his people and his unwavering commitment to justice mean that Mandela will never be forgotten. His contribution to making our world a more free and equal place is unparalleled.

Vale Nelson Mandela.

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