By Minister of Communications Nomvula Mokonyane
An activist who became the world’s most famous prisoner; a prisoner who became a President and changed the world. This is the inspiring story of former President – and the father of South Africa’s liberation and constitutional – democracy Nelson Mandela.
Madiba, who would have turned 100 this year, was proof that our continent can produce leaders who inspire millions of people around the world. The truth, though, is that Nelson Mandela’s path to be the world’s most admired person was not an easy one.
For much of his early life, he was the most wanted man in the country and his ideals of fairness and equality were dismissed by the apartheid regime. His unapologetic fight for equality and a non-racial society put him firmly in the crosshairs of a ruthless system. Yet he never shied away from his convictions.
Those with long memories will recall that he told the judge at the Rivonia Trial that he was prepared to die for the “realisation of the ideal of a democratic and free South Africa”. This led to his being labelled a terrorist and communist, both in the country and by other powerful countries. For example, Madiba’s name was on the U.S. terrorism watch list until 2008.
It was not until after his release in the 1990 that the whole world began to fully appreciate that Madiba stood for peace, justice and freedom. He succeeded in persuading the apartheid government that all races will be safe under the new dispensation and that it was in the interests of all South Africans to end apartheid.
A few years after his release, Madiba was honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize for securing a peaceful transition from apartheid to a new democratic South Africa. He shared this prize with former President FW de Klerk. He was celebrated both in the country and around the world for his beliefs and, in his lifetime, he received more than 260 awards.
In honour of this global icon, the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly held a Nelson Mandela Peace Summit, which was expected to adopt a declaration to take forward Madiba’s ideal of promoting global peace. During the summit, a statue of former President Nelson Mandela was also unveiled.
Madiba’s courage and determination to do the right thing have inspired many people to follow in his footsteps and speak out against injustice. He became the symbol for resistance against apartheid and people around the world rallied behind the “Free Nelson Mandela” campaign, which was led by his old friend Oliver Reginald Tambo.
This campaign exposed the brutality of the apartheid government and highlighted the plight of many political prisoners who languished in prison. Through this campaign, OR Tambo persuaded many countries to condemn the actions of the apartheid government, and this marked the beginning of the isolation which eventually led to apartheid’s collapse.
Madiba may be gone, but the ideals for which he sacrificed his life are intact, continuing to inspire people to make this world a better place.
South Africa will dedicate its two-year term on the Security Council to continue to build on the peaceful resolution of conflicts on the continent, guided by the African Union’s aspirations of Agenda 2063, in particular, ‘silencing the guns by 2020’.
As we celebrate his centenary, let us use the opportunity to embrace what Madiba stood for. He could easily have secured his release a number of years before 1990, but he refused to compromise, standing firm until his eventual unconditional release.
Throughout his life, Mandela stood for justice and equality. It is now up to us to continue his legacy by fighting for a more just and equitable society and world.