“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” –N.M.
The United States is going through a tumultuous point in its history where unity and understanding, and mutual respect are more important than ever. No one embodies those ideals more than the late Nelson Mandela, who fought his whole life to liberate South Africans and promote peace and humanity around the world. In part one of this blog, we covered 20 facts about Nelson Mandela, and here are the remaining 15:
1. In 2009, the United Nations named Nelson Mandela’s birthday on July 18th to be Nelson Mandela International Day. Every year on that day, the world community is asked to spend 67 minutes doing something good for others, representing the 67 years Mandela struggled for progress and freedom for South Africans.
2. Even incarceration in a remote island prison didn’t thwart Mandela’s activism. He still communicated with his fellow prisoners and the outside world on rare occasion when it was possible, passing secret messages through an elaborate system of hiding notes in trash, under toilet tanks, under dirty dishes, in used matchbooks, and just about anyplace else the guards wouldn’t look. Through this system, Mandela organized the other Robben Island inmates to protest and organize a hunger strike to try and improve their conditions.
3. By the last years of his sentence, Mandela was such a world icon for racial equality and national hero that he was given preferential treatment in prison, allowed to stay in a small cottage, communicate more with the outside world, and even the white guards paid him respect and reverence.
4. Mandela was finally released from prison on February 11, 1990, a world celebrated in South Africa and all around the world as a symbol of Apartheid’s failure. But instead of considering this a victory, Mandela urged the international community to continue boycotts of South African goods and economic sanctions, pressuring the white minority government.
5. Mandela immediately picked up his activism, too, telling a massive crowd upon his release, ''Now is the time to intensify the struggle on all fronts. To relax our efforts now would be a mistake which generations to come will not able to forgive.''
6. Upon his release, Mandela negotiated the end of the Apartheid government, with progressive President F.W. de Klerk starting to repeal racially-biased legislation left by his predecessor, Aparthied stalwart Pieter Botha, like the infamous Population Registration Act. By 1994, South Africa had a new constitution, an inclusive coalition government, and open elections for the first time in its history, with Mandela become the first black president of the nation.
7. At a time when many were calling for retribution and violence against their former oppressors, Mandela preached patients and reconciliation. In a remarkable display of humanity, he promoted peace and healing in his newly free nation just as vigorously as he’d promoted rebellion. Indeed, South Africa was on the brink of civil war, which could have led to possibly hundreds of thousands of deaths and decades of bloodshed. But instead of resorting to vigiliantism and violence, a wise President Mandela formed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate and try human-rights abuses that took place under Apartheid, pacifying newly freed South Africans.
8. Understanding that promoting reconcilliation and uniting his countrymen was paramount for his young nation not to rip apart, Mandela tapped into one of the only universal cultural phenomena – sports. And he saw the perfect opportunity to form a new sense of national pride when South Africa hosted the Rugby World Cup in 1995. Up until then, black South Africans abhorred the white national rugby team, called the Springboks. But Mandela instead prompted his black countrymen to adopt the Springboks as their own, attending matches wearing a Springboks jersey and publically befriending the team’s captain, Francois Pienaar.
9. The name for that movie actually comes from the poem of the same name that Mandela turned to for inspiration and faith over and over again during his 27 years of imprisonment. Mandela even read the poem by William Ernest Henley to his fellow prisoners, and drew exceptional strength from the lines, "I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul."
10. The Springboks players started making appearances and doing promotional visits in poor all-black shantytowns and even borught on the first black player on the team, endearing the national psyche. Against all odds, the Springboks won the Rugby World Cup that year, captivating the nation. When team captain Pienaar was asked what it was like to have "62,000 fans supporting you here in the stadium?” He responded, "We didn't have 62,000 fans behind us. We had 43 million South Africans." This historical event became the basis for the recent movie Invictus, starring Matt Damon as Pienaar and Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela.
11. But not everyone was enamored with Mandela, and he faced plenty of vigorous opposition, death threats, and even assassination or coup attempts. It’s hard to fathom in this day and age when Mandela is so beloved around the world, but he was actually on the United States terror watch list from the 1980s until 2008, when he was 89 years old, along with other members of the African National Congress.
12. Mandela made an appearance in Spike Lee’s 1992 biopic film, Malcolm X, playing a teacher who gave a civil rights speech. But Mandela refused to deliver one of the lines that Lee had written for him, “By any means necessary,” out of philosophical differences. Instead, Lee panned back to the actor playing Malcolm X delivering those closing lines.
13. Nelson Mandela passed away on December 5, 2013 at 95 years old, living to see his country and also our world a better place because of his presence.
14. It’s hard to quantify the positive effect Mandela had on South Africa while president, but according to his official Anthony Sampson, he “improved innumerable lives.” According to Sampson, thanks to Mandela, "Three million people were connected to telephone lines and safe drinking water, 1.5 million children were brought into the education system, 500 clinics were upgraded or built, two million people were connected to the electricity grid and 750,000 houses were built providing shelter for nearly three million people."
15. But the legacy he left the world is far greater, a model for change through non-violence, cooperation, and perservernce among all of man and womankind. Mandela’s words still stand as a beacon of hope for unity and civil rights:
“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair.”
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
“No one is born hating another person because of the color 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 hear than its opposite.”