"During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to the 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 in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."
On Wednesday, Nelson Mandela turns 94. Mandela continues to be a heroic icon throughout South Africa and the rest of the world, and rightfully so for his battles, accomplishments, and exceptionally high moral standard throughout his lifetime, particularly during and after the anti-apartheid movement.
Just five months ago, South Africa was, for the second time, prepared to face its worst fear – losing its beloved and respected leader – when Mandela was hospitalized. Even though Mandela has been out of the political arena since he ended his presidency in 1999, it is safe to say that just his mere presence in the country continues to give the country hope as South African democracy struggles to develop since his leaving office.
The United Nations declared in 2009 that every July 18 would be International Mandela Day. To honor the leader’s 67 years in active politics, during which he sacrificed a great deal to see freedom through for his country, the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory urges people to commit 67 minutes of their time to charity work. For a leader whom as a consequence of standing up for what was right and speaking out against apartheid, spent 27 years in prison, 18 of which was spent on the isolated Robben Island, asking everyday citizens to sacrifice just a little over an hour of their day to public service is not unreasonable; it feeds to the memory of Mandela's lifetime accomplishment and honors his character.
To celebrate this day, which marks another year that we have Mandela with us on this earth, a brief look at Mandela through the years:
Mandela’s political awakening began when he was a young lawyer in 1952. The humble Mandela described in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, the influence of those around him during this time – people dedicated to the anti-apartheid movement – and his modest start: old suits, meager meals, and all.
In an act of pure defiance, Mandela burned his "pass" which was required for blacks during the apartheid era to carry with them at all times to identify their race and area of the country which they belonged.
During the first treason trial, Mandela left the Pretoria synagogue, which was being used as a court in 1958. After four and a half years, he and all the other co-defendants were acquitted.
Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu on Robben Island in 1966.
The historic moment of the release of Nelson Mandela on Febuary 11, 1990, after 27 years in prison. After nearly three deacdes of being shunned from the public life, the thousands who greeted Mandela during his release were shocked at how different he looked, how much he had aged. The public was familiar with the Mandela in the previous photo, one still of youth.
Nelson Mandela and President F.W. de Klerk, the last apartheid-era president. Outside parliament in Cape Town, Monday, May 9, 1994. Mandela would be formally inaugurated as the country's first black president the next day.
Mandela with First Lady Hillary Clinton and her daughter Chelsea, March 20, 1997 at Genadendal.
Mandela at the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund in Johannesburg, 2007.
Also be sure to check out:
A beautifully written article that summarizes Mandela’s autobiography, here.
Take a look at the Madiba Birthday Song. (Madiba was Nelson Mandela’s birth name.)
Once again, happy birthday Nelson Madiba Mandela!