Mon. Jun 17th, 2024




The first in his family to go to school, the first black man to open a law firm in South Africa, the nation’s first black president.

His middle name means “troublemaker,” and in the 1960s Mandela was branded a terrorist. But at the end of his life he was revered globally by rich and poor, leftists and rightists, presidents and laborers, blacks and whites. In a skeptical age, Mandela was a hero for people who didn’t have heroes.

The arc of his 95-year life was extraordinary, even as many of its most crucial spiritual awakenings appear now to have taken place during long years in prison.  Spending nearly 3 decades in prison, he lived to see the dissolution of apartheid (segregation of blacks and whites, with whites dominating).

Former British prime minister, Tony Blair, said Mandela made racism  “not just immoral but stupid.”

Born in 1918 in Southeastern South Africa among the Xhosa people.  His name, “Ralihlahla” loosely translates as troublemaker. The Xhosa people waged war against the European settlers for roughly 100 years from 1779 during a series of wars which ended the last independent Xhosa state, Gcalekaland, which was then administered as a British territory.

He was instrumental in moving the nation toward multiracial government and majority rule. He is revered everywhere as a vital force in the fight for human rights and racial equality.

In his book, LONG WALK TO FREEDOM, his moving and exhilarating autobiography, destined to take its place among the finest memoirs of history’s greatest figures. Here for the first time, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela tells the extraordinary story of his life–an epic of struggle, setback, renewed hope, and ultimate triumph.

He suffered from illness and tragedy throughout his life. Born in the poorest region of South Africa, he was the great-grandson of a Tembu king. He was given his English name “Nelson” by a teacher at his school…. some say after Admiral Lord Nelson, but I don’t know the story behind that.  I do know that my mother-in-law was a Nelson and there are colorful stories connected to her lineage.

He became commander-in-chief of Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), the armed underground wing of the African National Congress, in 1961, and the following year underwent military training in Algeria and Ethiopia.

After more than a year underground, he was arrested and in 1964 sentenced to life in prison during the Rivonia trial where he delivered a speech that was to become the manifesto of the anti-apartheid movement.

“During my lifetime, I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society. … It is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

At age 83, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and successfully underwent treatment. Throughout his life he suffered from respiratory ailments, diagnosed with early-stage tuberculosis while in prison in 1988.  He was married 3 times and had 3 children; a son who died of AID’s and 2 daughters.

Let’s hope that his life inspires those of us determined to correct the corruption and inequity in our own part of the world because, after all, we live in a Democratic/free society, don’t we?.

His funeral takes place this Sunday, December 15th in Johannesberg, South Africa.  He is survived by his wife, daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and the love of millions in his nation and around the world who acknowledge he altered the course of history.

Rest in peace, “Mandiba.”






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