Tag Archives: obituary

Nelson Mandela

6 Dec

“In a way I had never quite comprehended before, I realized the role I could play in court and the possibilities before me as a defendant. I was the symbol of justice in the court of the oppressor, the representative of the great ideals of freedom, fairness and democracy in a society that dishonoured those virtues. I realized then and there that I could carry on the fight even in the fortress of the enemy.”
Nelson Mandela, 1994


Like so many of us, I am greatly saddened by the death of Nelson Mandela. I suppose that he was “ready” to die, but when it actually happens, the sharp feeling of loss seizes me.

I just read a great tribute to Mandela at http://www.laprogressive.com/author/john-peeler/.  I hope you get a chance to read it.

I admire Mandela for his persistence in struggle, for his commitment to non-violence and reconciliation with his enemies, for his courage in telling the truth, for his incorruptibility, and for his uncompromising dedication to social justice. I hope we all can take this opportunity to learn from him, among other things about how to deal with one’s “enemies” with compassion, not hatred.

In keeping with the theme of this blog,  I learned with the help of Wikipedia about what Mandela experienced in the 60s and 70s. Almost those entire decades and more, he was imprisoned at Robben Island, 210px-Nelson_Mandela's_prison_cell,_Robben_Island,_South_Africaconvicted of four counts of sabotage and conspiracy to violently overthrow the government. (Rather than getting the death sentence, he and his co-defendants received life in prison.)

He remained there for the next 18 years, imprisoned in a damp concrete cell measuring 8 by 7 feet, with a straw mat on which to sleep.Verbally and physically harassed by several white prison wardens, the  prisoners spent their days breaking rocks into gravel, until being reassigned in January 1965 to work in a lime quarry. 220px-RobbenIslandSteinbruchAMandela was initially forbidden to wear sunglasses, and the glare from the lime permanently damaged his eyesight.At night, he worked on his LLB degree, but newspapers were forbidden, and he was locked in solitary confinement on several occasions for possessing smuggled news clippings.Classified as the lowest grade of prisoner, Class D, he was permitted one visit and one letter every six months, although all mail was heavily censored.

The political prisoners took part in work and hunger strikes – the latter considered largely ineffective by Mandela – to improve prison conditions, viewing this as a microcosm of the anti-apartheid struggle. ANC prisoners elected him to their four-man “High Organ” along with Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and Raymond Mhlaba, while he also involved himself in a group representing all political prisoners on the island, Ulundi, through which he forged links with PAC and Yu Chi Chan Club members.Initiating the “University of Robben Island,” whereby prisoners lectured on their own areas of expertise, he debated topics such as homosexuality and politics with his comrades, getting into fierce arguments on the latter with Marxists like Mbeki and Harry Gwala.Though attending Christian Sunday services, Mandela studied Islam.He also studied Afrikaans, hoping to build a mutual respect with the warders and convert them to his cause.

His mother visited in 1968, dying shortly after, and his firstborn son Thembi died in a car accident the following year; Mandela was forbidden from attending either funeral.His wife was rarely able to visit, being regularly imprisoned for political activity, while his daughters first visited in December 1975; Winnie got out of prison in 1977 but was forcibly settled in Brandfort, still unable to visit him.

From 1967, prison conditions improved, with black prisoners given trousers rather than shorts, games being permitted, and food quality improving.


Some enlightening facts about and quotations from Nelson Mandela:

In 1986, former Vice President Dick Cheney, then a congressman, voted along with 179 other members of the House against a non-binding resolution to recognize the ANC and call on the South African government to release Mandela from prison. The measure finally passed, but not before a veto attempt by Reagan.

In 2000, Cheney maintained that he’d cast the correct vote.

In 2003, Mandela made several statements against the invasion of Iraq. “If you look at those matters, you will come to the conclusion that the attitude of the United States of America is a threat to world peace. Because what [America] is saying is that if you are afraid of a veto in the Security Council, you can go outside and take action and violate the sovereignty of other countries…..”

“…there is no doubt that the United States now feels that they are the only superpower in the world and they can do what they like.”

“If there is a country that has committed unspeakable atrocities in the world, it is the United States of America. They don’t care.”

Mandela wasn’t excised from a U.S. terrorism watch list until 2008, when  President George W. Bush signed a bill removing him. Mandela and other members of the African National Congress were on the list because of their fight against South Africa’s apartheid regime, which gave way to majority rule in 1994. 220px-ApartheidSignEnglishAfrikaans

When Mandela was asked about his future plans, he replied,

“I really wanted to retire and rest and spend more time with my children, my grandchildren and of course with my wife. But the problems [around the invasion of Iraq in March of 2003] are such that for anybody with a conscience who can use whatever influence he may have to try to bring about peace, it’s difficult to say no.”