Nelson Mandela Dies at Age 95: We Will Remember His Legacy

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[Editor's Note: South African anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela has died at age 95 on December 5, 2013. His legacy of non-violent action for racial equality will be remembered as it was by Lisa Owen, who wrote this beautiful post earlier this year when Mandela was admitted to the hospital. --Grace]

Every once in a while, there are people who achieve greatness. Maybe greatness in sports or the arts or in business, whatever their area of expertise. Of course, the word great is relative but, there are several names that history will attest to their greatness: Mohamed Ali, Babe Ruth, Marlon Brando, Billie Holiday, Caesar Chavez, Steve Jobs, Winston Churchill, to name a few. As I was listing those names I realized how far back I had to go to list people who had achieved universal greatness. A foreshadowing of what I'm about to say.

Very rarely, and almost never any more, do you find someone who is willing risk everything -- their life and their freedom -- for the betterment of others. A man or a woman whose self-sacrifice is a lot less important than achieving a common goal. A person who sees himself as a part of a movement and not seeking individual fame. This kind of greatness is rare. Nelson Mandela is a great man. I wanted to write this post while I can still say he isa great man. Mr. Mandela, 94, is in a Johannesburg hospital in critical condition and while I know that at 94, this is not unusual and he has lived a full life, I am so sad. I don't want to let go because this man has been such a shining example of leadership, integrity, humanitarianism and courage, and they just don't seem to make them like that anymore.

Nelson Mandela
Apr. 7, 2000 - Bedford, Great Britain - Former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, addressed an estimated crowd of up to 10, 000 in Bedford town center. (Image: © Globe Photos/ZUMAPRESS.com)

A little history lesson here, courtesy of Biography.com: Nelson Mandela was born on July 18, 1918, in Transkei, South Africa. Becoming actively involved in the anti-apartheid movement in his 20's, Mandela joined the African National Congress in 1942. For 20 years, he directed a campaign of peaceful, non-violent defiance against the South African government and its racist policies. In 1961, Mandela, who was formerly committed to nonviolent protest, began to believe that armed struggle was the only way to achieve change and subsequently co-founded Umkhonto we Sizwe, also known as MK, an armed offshoot of the ANC dedicated to sabotage and guerrilla war tactics to end apartheid. In 1961, Mandela orchestrated a three-day national workers' strike.

He was arrested for leading the strike the following year and sentenced to five years in prison. Then, in 1963, he was brought to trial again. This time, he and 10 other ANC leaders were sentenced to life imprisonment for political offenses, including sabotage.

Nelson Mandela was incarcerated on Robben Island for 18 of his 27 years in prison. During this time, he contracted tuberculosis and, as a black political prisoner, received the lowest level of treatment from prison workers. However, while incarcerated, Mandela was able to earn a Bachelor of Law degree through a University of London correspondence program. In 1982, Mandela and other ANC leaders were moved to Pollsmoor Prison, allegedly to enable contact between them and the South African government. In 1985, President P.W. Botha offered Mandela's release in exchange for renouncing armed struggle; the prisoner flatly rejected the offer. With increasing local and international pressure for his release, the government participated in several talks with Mandela over the years, but no deal was made. It wasn't until Botha suffered a stroke and was replaced by Frederik Willem de Klerk that Mandela's release was finally announced, on February 11, 1990. De Klerk also unbanned the ANC, removed restrictions on political groups and suspended executions.

Upon his release from prison, Nelson Mandela immediately urged foreign powers not to reduce their pressure on the South African government for constitutional reform. While he stated that he was committed to working toward peace, he declared that the ANC's armed struggle would continue until the black majority received the right to vote.

Nelson Mandela
Jan. 1, 2011 - A13781.052993 10/21/2003. Nelson Mandela and musicians joined forces in the fight against AIDS in South Africa. (Image: Karwai Tang/Alpha/Globe Photos/ZUMAPRESS.com)

In 1991, Mandela was elected president of the African National Congress, with lifelong friend and colleague Oliver Tambo serving as national chairperson. Mandela continued to negotiate with President F.W. de Klerk toward the country's first multiracial elections. White South Africans were willing to share power, but many black South Africans wanted a complete transfer of power. The negotiations were often strained and news of violent eruptions, including the assassination of ANC leader Chris Hani, continued throughout the country. Mandela had to keep a delicate balance of political pressure and intense negotiations amid the demonstrations and armed resistance.

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