Nelson Mandela: Unassuming leader of a global movement to end racism

Nelson Mandela remains in serious condition as South Africa prepares for the worst. Photo: Nelson Mandela / AP

WASHINGTON, June 10, 2013  — Nelson Mandela remains in serious condition as South Africa prepares for the worst.

The former South African president has been hospitalized for several days to treat the latest bout of a recurring lung infection. Mandela’s physicians have told President Jacob Zuma the 94-year-old Mandela is doing as well as could be expected.

A leader of South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement, Mandela was arrested in July of 1963 at Liliesleaf Farm, in Rivonia located North of Johannesburg, South Africa. On June 14, 1964, Mandela was sentence along with six others to life in prison on Robben Island for being an anti-apartheid activist and leader of the ANC party fighting for freedom and democracy. He was convicted on charges of “sabotage.”

Mandela was imprisoned for more than 27 years, becoming a quiet, steady voice against racist white rule in South Africa following his release in 1990.

Mandela’s influence on the war against racism and apartheid reached far beyond South Africa. His kind eyes, deep smile and shock of white hair are familiar to generations around the world.

As an example of Mandela’s impact on popular culture, in the popular situation comedy The Cosby Show, oldest daughter Sondra and husband Elvin got pregnant in the shows fourth season (1987-88) giving birth to twins Nelson and Winnie, named for Nelson and his wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela (m.1958–1996)

Bill Cosby with TV grandchildren, Nelson and Winnie, named for Nelson and Winnie Mandela

Bill Cosby with TV grandchildren, Nelson and Winnie, named for Nelson and Winnie Mandela


Though he was silenced for nearly three decades, Mandela’s fight to end apartheid continued outside his prision walls. Mandela’s efforts toward peacemaking, incluiding his historic collaboration with then President DeKlerk following his release helped topple the apartheid system.

His 1994 election as the first black man to South Africa’s Presidancy (May 10, 1994 to June 14, 1999) allowed him to serve not only his country, but as a global ambassador to end racism around the world. 

“President Jacob Zuma last night, 10 June 2013, met with the medical team  treating former President Nelson Mandela, and they gave him a thorough briefing. The former president is still in a serious, but stable condition,” a recent government statement has said.

Retired South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu described Mandela as an “extraordinary gift,” offering prayers “for comfort and dignity for Madiba and the family,” referring to Mandela by his clan name. 

Tutu describes Mandela as “the beloved father of our nation,” and outside Mandela’s Johannesburg home, school children from the Rainbow Hill Christian School sang words of encouragement. “We love you Mandela … get well, get well,” they sang.

Lebogang Serite, a 12-year-old student at the school, said she “couldn’t be in a white people’s school” had it not been for Mandela’s anti-apartheid efforts. “He means a lot to me because he fought for the country. I couldn’t be in a white people’s school,” she said.

“I know that if he was able to speak, he was going to play with them today. Unfortunately, wherever he is, he’s not well, but I know that he worked very, very hard for us. That’s why we are here,” said Mama Zodwa, a 57-year-old teacher from the school.

Mandela was born July 18, 1918 to the Thembu royal family. He studied law at the University of Witwatersrand. After moving to Johannesburg, he became a founding member of the Youth League and active in anti-colonial politics.

Given the name Rolihlahla at birth, he was named Nelson by a teacher at a local Methodist school where he was baptized. Mandela is quoted as saying “No one in my family had ever attended school […] On the first day of school my teacher, Miss Mdingane, gave each of us an English name. This was the custom among Africans in those days and was undoubtedly due to the British bias of our education. That day, Miss Mdingane told me that my new name was Nelson. Why this particular name I have no idea.”

Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts on behalf of his compatriots and sharing the 1993 prize with F.W. de Klerk, the last president of the apartheid era and who worked with Mandela to end apartheid.

Nelson has received numerous other awards and honoraria including the US Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Order of Canada, becoming the first living person to be made an honorary Canadian citizen. Mandela is the last reciprocate of the Soviet Union’s Lenin Peace Prize from the Soviet Union 1

In 1990 the government of India bestowed the Bharat Ratna Award. In 1992 Mandela received Pakistan’s Nishan-e-Pakistan.

Lime quarry of Robben Island Prision

Lime quarry of Robben Island Prision

In 1992 he was awarded the Atatürk Peace Award by Turkey though he refused the award, citing human rights violations being committed by Turkey, he later accepted the award in 1999.

Elizabeth II awarded him the Bailiff Grand Cross of the Order of St. John and the Order of Merit.

Zenani Mandela-Diamini, South Africa’s ambassador to Argentina has visited her father in the hospital, leading to concerns as to the seriousness of Mandela’s condition, the South African Press Association reported.

Mandela contracted tuberculosis during his time spent mostly at Robben Island, off the coast of Cape Town, where he spent years doing manual labor in the stone quarry before being transferred to the Pollsmoor and Victor Verster prisons.

The former leader retired from public life in 2004, rarely venturing out into the public. He has been receiving care for recurring lung infections, and other medical complication, receiving most medical care at his Johannesburg home until his latest transfer to a hospital.

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Jacquie Kubin

Jacquie Kubin is an award winning journalist that began writing in 1993 following a successful career in marketing and advertising in Chicago.  She started Communities Digital News in 2009 as a way to adapt to the changing online journalism marketing place.  Jacquie is President and Managing Editor of Communities Digital News, LLC and a frequent contributor to The Washington Times Communities as well as a member of the National Association of Professional Woman, New American Foundation and the Society of Professional Journalist.  Email Jacquie here

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