Nelson Mandela - A Tribute on his Birthday
Today, 18 July 2014, would have been Nelson Mandela's 96th birthday. Sadly he is no longer in the land of the living. He had died on December 5, 2013.
Without any doubts Nelson Mandela has distinguished himself as an International icon never to be forgotten. His dignity, compassion, forgiving nature, sense of justice and desire to reconcile instead of avenge all that was wrong, were but only a few of his characteristics that commanded the love and respect of people all over the world.
I was born in 1957 - 7 years before Nelson were sentenced-to-Life-in-Prison. Like millions of other South-Africans, I saw him for the first time on February 11, 1990, when he was-released-from prison-after-27-years.
Glued to our chairs, we waited for him to prove himself as the heartless terrorist, the bomber of innocent people.
We expected the worse.
Something in the line of the Russian Revolution.
To the contrary, Mandela surprised us all. His focus was on the future. "Let bygones be bygones."
“Never, never and never again shall this beautiful land again experience the oppression of one by another," he said.
On May 10, 1994 during his Inaugural Address he clearly stressed: “The time for the healing of the wounds has come. The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come. The time to build is upon us.”
Nelson Mandela's Inaugural Address On May 10, 1994
In the history class we learnt about
Why haven't I heard of Nelson Mandela while I was a child?
I was already the mother of two pre-school children when I heard for the first time of a man called Nelson Mandela who had been sentenced to jail for life on June 12, 1964.
How could you not have known what was happening all around you, I hear you ask.
Well, I was wrapped in the love of my parents. My parents - the best in the world - and their peers would never upset their children with any scary realities. The white children of decent parents were not allowed to see, or hear, anything of the bad and the ugly. We were Christians, not 'in' this world, but merely 'from' this world, 'children of God', already heart and soul with Jesus in Heaven. Whatever we have done wrong, was forgiven and forgotten by God already 2000 years ago, when Jesus had died in the place of all sinners. We were 'possessed by the Holy Spirit.
“Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. – Isaiah 1:18
The devil and 'his children' were the only scoundrels in our daily lives. HE - the devil - and his children were forever trying to get us in trouble, trying to convince us that we were NOT SUPPOSED to obey our parents, teachers or any of our respected elders, for "honour thy father and thy mother (in other words all authorities) that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
Yip, believe it or not, we were children of God. Baptised when we were still babies. Besides school, we also attended Sunday school, diligently obtained our diplomas and stamps to be confirmed at the age of 18 as members of our church - the 'only right' church in the eyes of God. Of course, those who did not agree with our interpretations of God's Word and Will, were our enemies, and we prayed for them.
Yes, we Coetsers and all our friends were wrapped in the love of our godly parents, teachers and all our superiors, like angels in snow-white clouds.
I was in my early twenties when the black children, who were living in 'their own towns" where they attended 'their own schools and churches", started to burn down their schools.
WTH? Were they crazy?
And so I have taken an interest in politics.....
But information revealed by newspapers were vague and did not make any sense to me. Books about Nelson Mandela and the ANC were banned and nowhere to be found. Nobody I knew could give me the information demanded by my inquisitive mind.
In the meanwhile Life went on. The (Appartheid's) government was in charge, I thought. If it was not for the 'terrorists in the townships' and the 'communists on our borders', South Africa would have been a heaven on earth, I thought while struggling from pay-day to pay-day to meet my own ends.
Some facts I was not aware of -
Being born on 18 July 1918, Mandela was almost forty years my senior. An entire generation existed between him and myself - the generation of my parents and their peers. By the time I was born, Apartheid was already established by my parent's parents, those esteemed members of the National Party who came into power in 1948.
Ten distinguished black African tribes - 70% of South Africa's population - were already living in their own homelands - which covered in total 13% of the entire South Africa. What an unfair distribution, I would have said if I was my grandmother.
- 70% of the population restricted to 13% of the country.
- 30% white, yet they had 87% of the entire country.
But then, my grandmother was uneducated like the majority Afrikaans-speaking whites. She had passed Grade 6, in other words she could count, read an write, and she knew just enough of maths to prevent the travelling Jew from crooking her out of the little money she had to her disposal to run her large household of eleven children.
And my grandfather and the majority Afrikaans-speaking people were on the same level, but benefiting from the government's "successful" effort - Apartheid - to pull poor whites out of the swamps of poverty.
Coloured people, unique South Africans, descendant from the European pioneers who had married native Africans and other non-white immigrants, were also disenfranchised and separated from all other races. Indians, too, were not regarded as ‘whites’ and bound to restricted areas and subjected to "White Only" laws.
The year I was born something traumatic happened to my mother. Her best friend was unexpectedly classified as a Coloured and forced by law to sacrifice her future in the shoes of a white man's bride. One day I will write her story.
History was one of my favourite subjects in school. But that was all about Jan van Riebeeck who came to South Africa in 1652, all the way from the Netherlands to establish a halfway house for ships in the most southern region of Africa, and about his and his successor's great achievements, and about the horrors that were caused by the British Empire. Our history books taught us all about our courageous ancestors, the Voortrekkers, who have mobilized the Groot Trek and conquered our Promise Land all the way up to the Limpopo River.
To make a long story short - I knew about the struggles of my white ancestors who were born in South Africa, and everything about my language - a dialect of Dutch, named Afrikaans - only accepted as an official language in 1925.
Yes, I learned all about the history of 'my people' even before I entered adulthood.
So, where were the blacks? Who was Nelson Mandela? According to my interpretation of reality: Black people were "working" all around us, "just there", doing what they were supposed to do.
Adults never discussed any ‘adult-topics’ in the presence of children. A child who dared entering a space where adults were socializing, was promptly confronted,
“Can we take out our teeth for you to count?"
"If you have a complaint, go to the magistrate before the streets get covered with devil's thorn.”
To try again to make a long story short - I grew up in the era of Apartheid, truly convinced that everything was just the way it should be,
In the meantime I was living in the proverbial Fool's Paradise.
was something I was not aware of while I was a child in my parent’s home. During the week my father was a lecturer at a technical college; weekends he was a missionary, preaching the gospel in the language of the Africans in our region, Sesotho. There was no church for them; the churches in the region were ‘for whites only’. So, Sunday afternoons our garage was filled with blacks, singing hallelujahs and hanging on the lips of my father, allowing him to tranquillize them with scriptures like -
- Colossians 3:17: "And whatsoever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father by him."
- Romans 8:28: "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose."
- 1 Thessalonians 5:18: "In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you."
Nelson Mandela stated the conditions in South Africa clearly during the Rivonia Trial (1963 - 1964): “SA is the richest country in Africa... only whites enjoy what may well be the highest standard of living in the world, whilst Africans live in poverty and misery... compulsory education for all white children at virtually no cost, while similar facilities are not provided for the African children... approximately 40 per cent of African children in the age group seven to fourteen do not attend school...”
It was on the news:
12 July 1989: "... after his meething with Mr. Mandela in jail the State President, Mr. PW Botha, confirmed that Mr. Mandela will not be released..."
What? Who? Why?
I was too busy with my own life to find answers for any gnawing political issues. Besides being a wife, mother, sister, sister-in-law, daughter, daughter-in-law and friend, I needed and wanted to focus on my businesses, music instruments, poems, journals, photo albums, not to talk about focusing on God and ‘his’ church where I overloaded myself with responsibilities of all sorts.
With only one ear I listened to news bulletins about riots in African townships. How could ‘they’ burn their schools and trains and busses? Exactly how barbaric were ‘they’ to kill their own neighbors with necklaces of burning tires? Can one really blame the Police when they shoot those crazy ringleaders? I pondered in total ignorance.
I had no idea how intense and serious the social issues of Africans were until 1994, when I bought and read Nelson Mandela’s biography, ‘Long Walk to Freedom’.
If YOU have not yet read this book from the first to the very last page, DO NOT even bother to share your thoughts with me.
Letter written by Nelson for his readers:
When I was seven, my father decided to give me something he had never enjoyed – an education. Ever since then, I have been able to appreciate the value of reading and lifelong learning.
This book is my personal contribution to developing and strengthening a culture both of learning and reading in South Africa. It is a shortened version of my Biography, ‘Long Walk to Freedom’, and has been written so that everyone can share my experience.
But it is not my story. It is the story of all of us and our struggle to be free. I hope you will enjoy reading it.
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela
A summary of some important facts about Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela -
Rolihlahla Mandela was born on July 18, 1918 in the tiny village Mvezo on the banks of the Mbashe River. He was born into the Madiba clan, which are part of the Thembu tribe. Madiba was the name of a Thembu chief who ruled in the 18th century.
The name Rolihlahla means ‘pulling the branch of a tree’ - an idiom for ‘troublemaker’. He was named by his father, Chief Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa, who was a member of the Thembu Royal family and the principal councilor to the king. Rolihlahla’s mother, Nosekeni Fanny, was the third of his father’s four wives. Together they had three daughters and one son, Rolihlahla.
At the age of seven Rolihlahla’s father sent him to school even though formal education was not imposed by Law or Thembu custom. It was a local mission school where the names of African students were promptly changed to a more ‘civilized’ name. Rolihlahla became Nelson.
At the age of nineteen Nelson joined Justice at Healdtown, the biggest college in the country for Africans with over one-thousand students. There, Nelson recalled the principal, Dr. Arthur Wellington, tried to turn students into ‘black Englishmen’.
At the age of twenty-one Nelson continued his studies at the university of Fort Hare in the Eastern Cape. Established in 1916. This university was a key institution in higher education for Africans. Only the cream of African society went there; Nelson was one of the exclusive 150 students. During his second year he was elected onto the Students’ Representative Council, but he reclined his position as it did not have the power students expected it to have.
Before Nelson could graduate, he was confronted with another custom of his people, namely arranged marriages. To avoid his, he fled to Johannesburg where he worked for a short while as a mine policeman and then as a clerk at one of the largest law firms. At the end of 1942 he completed his Bachelor's Degree in Arts through the University of South Africa (Unisa) and continued with his study LL.B. studies at the University of the Witwatersrand. He reaped the fruit of his studies when he opened his own law office in August 1952.
In 1944, at the height of the Second World War, Nelson and fifty-nine young members of the ANC formed a group in order to transform the ANC into a more radical mass movement and to establish African Nationalism and Liberation. They called themselves the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL). In 1948 Nelson was elected as the league’s National Secretary. This was the same year the National Party (of the whites) won the (white-only) elections. Their goal was to establish Apartheid. The ANCYL decided to set boycott, strike, civil disobedience and non-co-operation as their Program of Action. Nelson’s participation as a leader in the Campaign for the Defiance of Unjust Laws eventually led to his life imprisonment on June 12, 1964. For almost three decades he would be Prisoner 466/64.
The Struggle for Freedom continued while he was in prison. On his release on February 11, 1990, he was able to pursue his strive to demolish injustice in South Africa. In 1991, at the first national conference of the ANC held inside South Africa – as they were banned for decades - Mandela was elected President of the ANC, and on May 10, 1994 he was inaugurated as the first President of a democratic South Africa.
An extract of Nelson Mandela’s inauguration speech -
“...We understand that there is no easy road to freedom. We know it well that none of us acting alone can achieve success. We must therefore act together as a united people, for national reconciliation, for nation building, for the birth of a new world. Let there be justice for all. Let there be peace for all. Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all. Let each know that for each the body, the mind and the soul have been freed to fulfill themselves. Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world. Let freedom reign.”
After only one term as President, Nelson stepped down in 1999. He founded three foundations: The Nelson Mandela Foundation, The Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and The Mandela-Rhodes Foundation.
“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against African 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,” Nelson said in April 20, 1964.
Monday, on his 93rd birthday, Nelson will be able to repeat these words, knowing that he had, indeed, achieved his goal.
The women in Nelson Mandela’s life -
Against the tradition of his people, Nelson married Evelyn Mase in a civil ceremony at the Native Commissioner’s Court in Johannesburg in 1944. They had four children, of whom one died in infancy. They separated in 1955 and finally divorced in 1958.
He fell in love with Nomzamo Winnifred Madikizela (Winnie) in 1957. She was eighteen years younger than himself and highly educated with a degree in social work and a Bachelor's degree in International Relations. She was a qualified Social Worker at the Baragwanath Hospital when he saw her by chance, waiting at a bus stop. He was struck by her beauty. They were married in 1958 and had two daughters, Zenani and Zindzi. For twenty-seven-and-a-half years they were forced by Nelson’s imprisonment to live apart which eventually took its toll when they divorced on 19 March 1996.
On his 80th birthday in 1998 Nelson Mandela married Graça Machel, the widow of the former president of Mozambique, Samora Machel.
Nelson Mandela's Death and Funeral
On 5 December 2013, after suffering from a prolonged respiratory infection, Nelson Mandela died in his home at the age of 95. Representatives of countries all over the world attended his funeral on 15 December in his home-valley, Qunu.
Good Morning, Mr. Mandela: A Memoir by Zelda la Grange
Zelda la Grange, a white Afrikaner woman who grew up in segregated South Africa, raised as a racist but utterly transformed when she became Nelson Mandela’s private secretary, shares her memories of almost two decades on his side in her book “Good Morning, Mr Mandela.”
“President Nelson Mandela’s choice of the young Afrikaner typist Zelda la Grange as his most trusted aide embodied his commitment to reconciliation in South Africa. She repaid his trust with loyalty and integrity. I have the highest regard for her.” — Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu
Happy Birthday, Madiba!
Dear Nelson Mandela, down here in the small country, South Africa, you were considered to be a terrorist by a handful of ignorant and self-involved whites, who were for some reason not able to understand that ALL humans were HUMANS regardless of the color of their skins. (And sadly, some of those racists are still alive, infecting the minds and hearts of their children with hate, intolerance and all kinds of characteristics associated with evil.) However, in comparison to the rest of the people in this world, who have recognized you as one of the wisest and most respected leaders ever known, 'they' are not worthy to be mentioned.
Mr. Mandela, you were an epitome of courage, willpower, determination, self-control, endurance, integrity, forgiveness, and all the esteemed qualities we humans call 'divine', or in the nature of God.
Rest in Peace while your legacy of equality, peace, forgiveness and humanity continue to change the world, and especially South Africa, for the better.
© Martie Coetser
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