On December 5th, former president of South Africa Nelson Mandela passed away at the age of 95. Mandela was an extraordinary man who dedicated his life to fighting for freedom and racial equality. His death is an immense loss not just for the people of South Africa, but it is a loss for people all over the world. His example of fearless leadership is one that has touched many and will never be forgotten.
Mandela was born in 1918. His political activism began as a young man in the 1940’s around the time when the apartheid became an official policy of South Africa. In 1944, he joined an anti-apartheid group known as the African National Congress. Shortly after, he started his own political party called the Youth League of the African National Congress, with which he hoped to take more of a radical stance than that of the ANC. He successfully took aggressive action with the Youth League which later convinced the ANC to also adopt a more radical policy in 1949 known as the Programme of Action.
Mandela was sent to jail numerous times for disobeying the law, and he was eventually sentenced to life in prison in 1964 for sabotage against the government. During his time in jail, both his mother and eldest son passed away and Mandela was not allowed to attend either of their funerals.
In 1990, F.W. De Klerk was elected as president of South Africa and quickly began to rid of the apartheid system. That same year, Mandela was released from prison after 27 years. After spending a good portion of his life in prison, this is what Mandela had to say about it:
“People may say to spend 27 years in prison you have wasted your life. But the greatest thing for a politician is whether the ideas to which you’ve committed your life are still alive, whether these ideas are likely to triumph in the end, and everything that happened showed that we have not sacrificed in vain.”
After his release from prison, he continued to commit himself to abolishing apartheid. In 1993, Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize along with South African President F.W. de Klerk. That same year, the South African government agreed for the first time to allow black citizens to vote and in 1994, Mandela was elected president of South Africa.
After his presidency, Mandela turned his focus to AIDS activism. He became very passionate about the issue of HIV/AIDS, as he had lost his son as well as many other loved ones to the disease.
Today, there are three foundations in Nelson Mandela’s name including The Nelson Mandela Foundation, The Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, and the Mandela Rhodes Foundation, all which raise funds for different causes. Nelson Mandela may have passed away, but his legacy undoubtedly lives on. As Mandela said himself,
“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”