It appears that as of the last 30 minutes or so it has been confirmed that Mandela has died, age 95. He has suffered a long illness, well publicised and it was widely thought that he was close to death. So, this should come as no surprise.
It really is hard to know where to start when describing Mandela, or indeed anyone who has lived as long as he did and seen through so many changes. The man he became, he grew into, but he was a man before that, who lived a life, an ordinary yet extraordinary life.
He grew up in a position of relative privilege, as much as a child born to high status Xhosa in their traditional lands, in what was the Cape Province, then the Transkei, then again the Cape, now Eastern Cape, as the nation evolved. Quite what it meant to be born to that kind of family in a traditional African family in South Africa, in 1918 is anyone's guess, but he was destined for high office all the same. South Africa being a nation of four provinces at the time, the Cape being perhaps the best place to be African, albeit that being a qualified win. He was able to be schooled and then attend Fort Hare, one of the few higher education institutions designed for non White students. From there, he eventually, in effect, ran off to the big city, Johannesburg, where he built a new life as a lawyer, during WW2.
Whilst in the big city, he became radicalised through his studies to law and became involved in youth politics and the ANC. This being the era of the rise of Grand Apartheid, things became pretty real, pretty fast, as petty repression and a colour bar became so much more with the election of the National Party in 1948. What had been a hard struggle for rights and recognition became a vicious and nasty struggle as the Union of South Africa gradually evolved into a police state. As events unfolded, Black, Coloured, Indian and White opposition gradually radicalised and progressively adopted violent actions to oppose the Apartheid Regime.
Mandela, by now a lawyer, spent the 1950s working through the ANC as various Apartheid legislation was passed, progressively containing and disenfranchising non White South Africans. By the end of the 1950s, armed struggle kicked off and many in the youth wings of the ANC organised to form a guerilla movement, the Spear of the Nation, with Mandela quickly becoming the leading light. The Spear of the Nation conducted a terror campaign, whilst being trained and armed by the newly Independent African states and the Eastern Bloc nations, which led to a close relationship between Mandela, the ANC and various left wing movements across the world. An association which both helped and undermined the ANC and Mandela prior to the fall of Apartheid.
In 1962 Mandela and his associates were captured at their headquarters, Rivonia and sent to trial
in 1963. The trial became one of the most famous trials of the 20th century, as the issue of decolonisation was coming to the fore across the world, in the NICs and the West. The defendants, Mandela included, were largely articulate and well represented and the trial well publicised across the world, spoken about in the UN and other venues. However, Mandela and Co were imprisoned and spent the next several decades in prison, becoming the face of Apartheid and a living martyr to the struggle for freedom.
By the early 1980s the Apartheid regime was clearly struggling and this was clear to all, even the most blinkered of supporters. Whether or not it would end or not was of course less clear. There were discussions and offers for him to make deals but he stuck to his guns (there is of course a lot more to the story) and gradually the pressure built up, as the Cold War collapsed, the Eastern Bloc fell. In 1990 he was released and he triumphantly toured the world, before continuing negotiations as to the next step, which turned out to be multi racial democratic elections in 1994 and his election to the presidency.
Now, his achievements are many, but quite what bits are due to him, or to his advisors and fellow activists is not for this post, but he did provide leadership of a kind that the country needed. The goodwill of many was needed to achieve a peaceful transition, but a calm and uniting leader certainly didn't hurt.
More to come
Address to the nation by President Jacob Zuma on the departure of former President Nelson Mandela
5 December 2013
My Fellow South Africans,
Our beloved Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the founding President of our democratic nation has departed.
He passed on peacefully in the company of his family around 20h50 on the 5th of December 2013.
He is now resting. He is now at peace.
Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father.
Although we knew that this day would come, nothing can diminish our sense of a profound and enduring loss.
His tireless struggle for freedom earned him the respect of the world.
His humility, his compassion, and his humanity earned him their love. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Mandela family. To them we owe a debt of gratitude.
They have sacrificed much and endured much so that our people could be free.
Our thoughts are with his wife Mrs Graca Machel, his former wife Ms Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, with his children, his grand-children, his great grand-children and the entire family.
Our thoughts are with his friends, comrades and colleagues who fought alongside Madiba over the course of a lifetime of struggle.
Our thoughts are with the South African people who today mourn the loss of the one person who, more than any other, came to embody their sense of a common nationhood.
Our thoughts are with the millions of people across the world who embraced Madiba as their own, and who saw his cause as their cause.
This is the moment of our deepest sorrow.
Our nation has lost its greatest son.
Yet, what made Nelson Mandela great was precisely what made him human. We saw in him what we seek in ourselves.
And in him we saw so much of ourselves.
Fellow South Africans,
Nelson Mandela brought us together, and it is together that we will bid him farewell.
Our beloved Madiba will be accorded a State Funeral.
I have ordered that all flags of the Republic of South Africa be lowered to half-mast from tomorrow, 6 December, and to remain at half-mast until after the funeral.
As we gather to pay our last respects, let us conduct ourselves with the dignity and respect that Madiba personified.
Let us be mindful of his wishes and the wishes of his family.
As we gather, wherever we are in the country and wherever we are in the world, let us recall the values for which Madiba fought.
Let us reaffirm his vision of a society in which none is exploited, oppressed or dispossessed by another.
Let us commit ourselves to strive together – sparing neither strength nor courage – to build a united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa.
Let us express, each in our own way, the deep gratitude we feel for a life spent in service of the people of this country and in the cause of humanity.
This is indeed the moment of our deepest sorrow.
Yet it must also be the moment of our greatest determination.
A determination to live as Madiba has lived, to strive as Madiba has strived and to not rest until we have realised his vision of a truly united South Africa, a peaceful and prosperous Africa, and a better world.
We will always love you Madiba!
May your soul rest in peace.
God Bless Africa.
Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika.