“The UN took a strong stand against apartheid; and over the years, an international consensus was built, which helped to bring an end to this iniquitous system. But we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians. “
Nelson Mandela, photo credit South Africa – the Good News
Nelson Mandela led the South African people out of Apartheid and into a democratic state at enormous personal cost, spending 27 years in prison.
Mandela has long been a friend of the Palestinian people, believing – as he said in 1985 – that “Your freedom and mine cannot be separated.”
In 1997, at an event to mark the UN’s day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people, Nelson Mandela said:
“The UN took a strong stand against apartheid; and over the years, an international consensus was built, which helped to bring an end to this iniquitous system. But we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.
“The temptation in our situation is to speak in muffled tones about an issue such as the right of the people of Palestine to a state of their own. We can easily be enticed to read reconciliation and fairness as meaning parity between justice and injustice. Having achieved our own freedom, we can fall into the trap of washing our hands of difficulties that others faces.”
Born 18th July 1919 in Mvezo, a small village in the district of Umtata, South Africa, Mandela was named Rolihlahla, “to pull a branch from a tree” and it was only upon attending school ( the first in his family to do so) that a teacher would assign him the English name, ‘Nelson’.
During his time at Fort Hare, where he studied for a Bachelor of Arts, he became involved in a boycott of the Student Council and was asked to leave. When Mandela returned home he discovered that an arranged marriage awaited him, so he fled to Johannesburg. Here he completed various courses, including a BA degree from the University of South Africa.
Following the election of hard-line nationalists and supporters of the apartheid “National Party” Mandela started to become actively involved in politics. He worked extensively to provide free or low cost legal representation to black South Africans, working alongside his comrade Oliver Tambo. At this time he was committed to non-violent resistance advocated by Ghandi. Mandela was arrested and charged with treason in 1956, for which he was acquitted.
In 196 he became head of the ANC armed wing and in 1962 was sentenced to five years in prison. Mandela would spend the next 27 years behind bars.
It was whilst in prison that the awareness of his intellectual strength and skilled oratory started to become wider known.
Throughout Mandela’s period in prison, pressure was exerted on the South African Government to release him, most notably under the slogan “free Nelson Mandela”.
In 1990, Mandela was finally released by De Klerk, South Africa’s new and final Prime Minister of the Apartheid era.
On the day of his release Mandela affirmed his belief in co-existence and in reconciliation. From 1991he served as President of the ANC. Following the assassination of Chris Hani – the Head of ANC’s Armed division – in 1993, Mandela emerged as the leader of a new South African nation appealing for calm on national television and for unity between all South Africans against those who sought violence.
On the 27th of April 1994 Mandela’s leadership of South Africa was formalised as he led the ANC to victory with over 60% of the vote in the first non racial elections of South Africa’s history. Mandela focused on the reconciliation of the black and white communities throughout his tenure.
Following his retirement in 1999 Mandela took interest in several charitable organisations.
The 18th of July is Mandela day, and this is a day many will remember not only his role in South Africa, but his great solidarity with the Palestinian people.
Quotes from Mandela:
- Your freedom and mine cannot be separated. (quote in TIME 25th Feb, 1985)
- “Our march to freedom is irreversible.” (address to Cape Town on release from prison, 11th February 1990)
- They recognized that an injury to one is an injury to all and therefore acted together in defense of justice and a common human decency. (Nobel Prize acceptance speech, 10th December 1993)
- No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite. (Long walk to freedom, 1995)