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The world has lost a hero. Nelson Mandela changed the face of world politics and society by fighting for what he personally believed in, paving the way for a more accepting and equal people. I doubt that there are many people alive who don’t know his name, or who haven’t been the beneficiaries in some form of his long walk to freedom, but not everyone will know his true story.
For my part I didn’t really know all that much about Mandela until I studied multilingualism at university and learnt about the struggles that the South African population suffered under the apartheid regime. The black majority were segregated because of their skin colour by the white minority Apartheid government, with the voice of the state being Afrikaans. Nelson Mandela did not want to dominate the white minority, as has been seen elsewhere through the excess and tyranny of Mugabe, but rather only wanted equality for all. In 1964 he famously said:
“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.”
He was willing to die for his cause and spent twenty-seven years in prison for sabotage, during which he was offered several conditional releases. He rejected all of them, never compromising his beliefs.
Mandela was finally released in 1990 and four years later ascended to the presidency in post-Apartheid South Africa. During these four years Mandela was instrumental in talks about ending the white rule and a transition to an equal society for all that lived there. He was inaugurated as the first non-white President in South Africa, as well as the nation’s first democratically elected President, serving one term before stepping down in 1999. He continued to work with various charities until ailing health limited his involvement near the end of his life.
Nelson Mandela’s story is truly inspirational to all who oppose inequality. He was fiercely adamant in his beliefs and never wavered, yet conducted himself with a wisdom and reflection that earned him the respect of the world. He was subjected to sustained racial abuse throughout his life, but he never once met racism with racism. After the end of Apartheid, he tried to unify the black and white populations, openly supporting a white-dominated rugby team that had previously come to symbolise the privilege and segregation of the white community. In this act of support he showed that there was no place for hostility in the new South Africa, a landmark recognition of peace in the face of the population that had previously dominated him.
Mandela spent his life inspiring those that suffered oppression—whether it be skin tone, sexual orientation, or gender driven—by showing that if you fight for what you believe in and never let your beliefs be changed, change can actually be achieved. History will mark Mandela as a great man who managed to help unify a country against all the odds, and in which race left deep scars on public life. His influence on South Africa and the effect his steps towards recognition and reconciliation initiated, showed that all his years of fighting were not in vain.
So, rest in peace Nelson Mandela. You will never be forgotten.