Nelson Mandela: Freedom fighter to world icon

Nelson Mandela during a press conference on November 28th, 2003 for the "46664 - Give One Minute of Your Life to AIDS" concert, on Robben Island, off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years. Credit: Getty Images
Nelson Mandela during a press conference on November 28th, 2003 for the “46664 – Give One Minute of Your Life to AIDS” concert, on Robben Island, off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years. Credit: Getty Images

Former South African President Nelson Mandela died peacefully at his Johannesburg home on Thursday after a prolonged lung infection, President Jacob Zuma said. In a nationally televised address, Zuma said South Africa’s first black president would be accorded a full state funeral. He ordered flags to be flown at half mast.

Mandela’s cell of 5 square metres in Robben Island, where he spent 18 of his 27 years in prison, is now a virtual shrine for tourists and political figures alike. But Mandela was much more than a long-suffering prisoner. He was a world leader and 20th century icon.

“His building a future for South Africa was a huge feat,” says Stephen Chan, Professor of International Relations at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and author of numerous books on southern Africa. “He helped draft what may be the world’s best constitution. He was key in establishing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was crucial in helping the country deal with its apartheid past. He was also a highly moral politician, setting the tone for the whole continent by stepping down after one term.”

Lilias van Wyk, a white South African who lived through apartheid, is full of admiration for Mandela. “We all think he was a fantastic man,” she tells Metro. “It’s amazing what he accomplished without any violence or shooting. And his dignity!”

Indeed, Mandela succeeded where so many other freedom-fighters-turned-leaders have failed: as a democratic politician and later president, the former communist united his country. Despite the black majority’s pent-up anger over years of discrimination, no civil war erupted. The transition to democracy under Mandela’s leadership proceeded in a remarkably orderly fashion. In his presidential inauguration speech, Mandela urged South Africans to practice forgiveness, saying in Afrikaans, “Wat is verby verby”, what is past is past. And, through his moral leadership, Mandela brought South Africa back into the international fold. 

But Mandela was no angel. “He became a saint because we made him one,” says Chan. “We made him one to justify not putting enough pressure on the apartheid government to release him.” And though South African lore sees him as an old man who magically emerged from prison to rule his country, the reality is more nuanced. Explains Chan: “The four years between his release and his election as president in 1994 were turbulent. He had to go on a steep learning curve.” And, while Mandela was in charge as president, he mainly provided strategic direction and left the nitty-gritty of governing to his deputy, Thabo Mbeki. That’s in no way negative, but the 76-year-old didn’t singlehandedly perform the arduous task of running the country.

Even after stepping down, Mandela remained an icon: almost uniquely among dissidents elected to political power, he left with his integrity and popularity intact. For South Africa, the African continent, even the world he was a desperately needed icon of democratic success.


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Memorial held for Sean Collier, MIT police officer…

More than 1,600 people gathered at MIT on Friday for a memorial service for Sean Collier, the police officer shot to death a year ago in the aftermath of the…

National

Florida man charged with murdering son to play…

A Florida man annoyed that his 16-month-old crying son was preventing him from playing video games suffocated the toddler, police said on Friday.

International

Powerful 7.2 magnitude earthquake rattles Mexico

A powerful earthquake struck Mexico Friday, shaking buildings and sending people running into the street, although there were no reports of major damage.

News

OMG! Exercise can make skin (and butt) look…

A moderate exercise regime can turn back time and actually reverse the skin's aging process, according to new research. The study showed that a minimum…

Entertainment

Whoopi Goldberg makes her debut as marijuana columnist

"It helps my head stop hurting, and with glaucoma your eyes ache, and she takes the ache out. It's wonderful," she said.

The Word

Kate Middleton made fun of Prince William's bald…

Kate Middleton and Prince William are in Sydney, Australia, right now, and it sounds like that brash Aussie sense of humor might be rubbing off.

The Word

Is Tom Cruise dating Laura Prepon?

"Mission: Impossible" star Cruise is said to be dating Laura Prepon, star of "Orange is the New Black."

Television

'Scandal' recap: Season 3, Episode 18, 'The Price…

Sally is Jesus, Olivia caused global warming, and Mellie's still drunk. Let's recap the Scandal finale. A church full of Washington insiders is about to…

NHL

NHL video highlights & analysis: Red Wings dump…

NHL video highlights & analysis: Red Wings dump Bruins in Game 1

MLB

MLB video highlights: Orioles top Red Sox, 8-4…

John Lackey roughed up for second straight outing

MLB

MLB video highlights: Red Sox score two in…

Lester shines in Red Sox win over White Sox

Sports

2014 Boston Marathon preview: Elite American, International runners…

2014 Boston Marathon: Elite American, International runners to watch

Tech

VIDEO: 'Vein-scanning' may become the future of paying

Designed to make transactions quicker and easier, the technology works by scanning the unique vein patterns in each person's palm.

Tech

#FollowFriday: 10 of the smartest Twitter accounts

Spending lots of time on Twitter? You might as well learn something. Here are some of the smartest accounts to follow.

Style

Light-up nail art syncs with phone

This Japanese technology syncs light-up nail art with your phone.

Wellbeing

Why is dance cardio taking off in NYC?

Instructors at some of the city's hottest classes explain why.