Accra – In his message to mark this year’s Nelson Madela International Day, the United Nations Secretary-General Ban ki-moon clearly articulated the world’s impression of the man called Nelson Mandela: “…an extraordinary man who embodies the highest values of humanity…[and] we are united in admiration for a giant of our times.” A giant with strong determination, zeal and spirit to fight for the cause he believes in, which is a “democratic and free society”. This ideal he once noted “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.”
After almost 50 years of racial segregation under Apartheid, in South Africa, many thought change could only occur through civil conflict. However, an unexpected turn in history came with the process of dismantling the Apartheid system, where Nelson Mandela was release from prison and chosen as South Africa’s first democratic president. Nelson Mandela emerged not only as South Africa’s first democratic president, but as an international symbol of hope for humanity. After being jailed for 27 years, Mandela once again began where he left off: to continue to preach a message of peace, forgiveness and human rights for he believed that “for to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” And so Madiba did not waver in his quest to instill these qualities into South Africans of all backgrounds in efforts to create national unity.
Born on July 18, 1918, in Mveso, Transkei, South Africa to the Madiba Clan, Nelson Madela became actively involved in the anti-apartheid movement in his 20s and joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1942. A staunch activist for human rights, Mandela organized peaceful, non-violent defiance against the South African government and its racist policies. As a result, in 1963 Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment. He was incarcerated for 27 years and spent 18 of those years on Robben Island. While serving his sentence, Mandela’s tenacity for self-improvement, despite his circumstance, led him to earn a Bachelor of Law degree. In the midst of Apartheid’s collapse, Mandela was released from prison in 1990.
The National Party (NP) was the leader of the Apartheid political system. Frederik Willem de Klerk, president of the National Party dismantled Apartheid and transferred power to the ANC, which Mandela would lead. South Africa’s new transformation gained international praise. As a result, de Klerk and Mandela were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1993. In 1994, Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first black president and an international hero.
It may baffle the human logic as to how a man can forgive his offender, after spending 27 years of his life behind bars, especially so when his “offense” for being jailed was to fight for justice for all. Mandela’s liberated spirit gives account to that when he said, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” And so though he left behind the bitterness, another wave of energy met him in the real world to continue the struggle for a democratic and free society.
Nelson Mandela has imparted the greatest lessons on mankind, and it is with esteem that we honor not only the man, but also all that he stood for- peace, human rights, education and equality. In November 2009, the United Nations General Assembly declared Mandela’s birthday (July 18) Nelson Madela International Day to promote global peace and celebrate the South African leader’s legacy.
As we embark upon this day, we should be awaken to the strength of Madiba and his legacy. We should also be awaken to the power we all posses to always do more and be better in what we do for the good of humanity. As we commemorate his contributions to mankind, we shall labor for our actions to be in alignment with his teachings.
The key word here is “take action, inspire change”. Thus, in the spirit of moving towards a better world, it is our hope that we spend this day serving each other. On this day, let us join the rest of the world to honor Nelson Mandela’s spirit of perseverance and remind ourselves that “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”