JOHANNESBURG: Nelson Mandela, who became one of the world’s most beloved statesmen and a colossus of the 20th century when he emerged from 27 years in prison to negotiate an end to white minority rule in South Africa, has died. He was 95.
South African President Jacob Zuma made the announcement at a news conference late Thursday, saying “we’ve lost our greatest son.”
His death closed the final chapter in South Africa’s struggle to cast off apartheid, leaving the world with indelible memories of a man of astonishing grace and good humor. Rock concerts celebrated his birthday. Hollywood stars glorified him on screen. And his regal bearing, graying hair and raspy voice made him instantly recognizable across the globe.
As South Africa’s first black president, the ex-boxer, lawyer and prisoner No. 46664 paved the way to racial reconciliation with well-chosen gestures of forgiveness. He lunched with the prosecutor who sent him to jail, sang the apartheid-era Afrikaans anthem at his inauguration, and traveled hundreds of miles to have tea with the widow of Hendrik Verwoerd, the prime minister at the time he was imprisoned.
His most memorable gesture came when he strode onto the field before the 1995 Rugby World Cup final in Johannesburg. When he came on the field in South African colors to congratulate the victorious South African team, he brought the overwhelmingly white crowd of 63,000 to its feet, chanting “Nelson! Nelson! Nelson!“ For he had marched headlong into a bastion of white Afrikanerdom — the temple of South African rugby — and made its followers feel they belonged in the new South Africa.
At the same time, Mandela was himself uneasy with the idea of being an icon and he did not escape criticism as an individual and a politician, though much of it was muted by his status as a unassailable symbol of decency and principle. As president, he failed to craft a lasting formula for overcoming South Africa’s biggest post-apartheid problems, including one of the world’s widest gaps between rich and poor.
In his writings, he pondered the heavy cost to his family of his decision to devote himself to the struggle against apartheid. He had been convicted of treason and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964 for leading a campaign of sabotage against the government, and sent to the notorious Robben Island prison. It was forbidden to quote him or publish his photo, yet he and other jailed members of his banned African National Congress were able to smuggle out messages of guidance to the anti-apartheid crusade.
As time passed — the “long, lonely, wasted years,” as he termed them — international awareness of apartheid grew more acute. By the time Mandela turned 70 he was the world’s most famous political prisoner. Such were his mental reserves, though, that he turned down conditional offers of freedom from his apartheid jailers and even found a way to benefit from confinement.
“People tend to measure themselves by external accomplishments, but jail allows a person to focus on internal ones; such as honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, generosity and an absence of variety,” Mandela says in one of the many quotations displayed at the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg. “You learn to look into yourself.”
Thousands died, were tortured and were imprisoned in the decades-long struggle against apartheid, so that when Mandela emerged from prison in 1990, smiling and waving to the crowds, the image became an international icon of freedom to rival the fall of the Berlin Wall. South Africa’s white rulers had portrayed Mandela as the spearhead of a communist revolution and insisted that black majority rule would usher in the chaos and bloodshed that had beset many other African countries as they shook off colonial rule.
Yet since apartheid ended, South Africa has held four parliamentary elections and elected three presidents, always peacefully, setting an example on a continent where democracy is still new and fragile. Its democracy has flaws, and the African National Congress has struggled to deliver on promises. It is a front runner ahead of 2014 elections, but corruption scandals and other missteps have undercut some of the promise of earlier years.
“We have confounded the prophets of doom and achieved a bloodless revolution. We have restored the dignity of every South African,” Mandela said shortly before stepping down as president in 1999 at age 80. Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born July 18, 1918, the son of a tribal chief in Transkei, one of the future “Bantustans,” independent republics set up by the apartheid regime to cement the separation of whites and blacks.
Mandela’s royal upbringing gave him a dignified bearing that became his hallmark. Many South Africans of all races would later call him by his clan name, Madiba, as a token of affection and respect. Growing up at a time when virtually all of Africa was under European colonial rule, Mandela attended Methodist schools before being admitted to the black University of Fort Hare in 1938. He was expelled two years later for his role in a student strike. He moved to Johannesburg and worked as a policeman at a gold mine, boxed as an amateur heavyweight and studied law.
His first wife, nurse Evelyn Mase, bore him four children. A daughter died in infancy, a son was killed in a car crash in 1970 and another son died of AIDS in 2005. The couple divorced in 1957 and Evelyn died in 2004.
Mandela began his rise through the anti-apartheid movement in 1944, when he helped form the ANC Youth League. He organized a campaign in 1952 to encourage defiance of laws that segregated schools, marriage, housing and job opportunities. The government retaliated by barring him from attending gatherings and leaving Johannesburg, the first of many “banning” orders he was to endure. After a two-day nationwide strike was crushed by police, he and a small group of ANC colleagues decided on military action and Mandela pushed to form the movement’s guerrilla wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, or Spear of the Nation. He was arrested in 1962 and sentenced to five years’ hard labor for leaving the country illegally and inciting blacks to strike. A year later, police uncovered the ANC’s underground headquarters on a farm near Johannesburg and seized documents outlining plans for a guerrilla campaign.
At a time when African colonies were one by one becoming independent states, Mandela and seven co-defendants were sentenced to life in prison. “I do not deny that I planned sabotage,” he told the court. “I did not plan it in a spirit of recklessness, nor because I have any love of violence. I planned it as a result of a calm and sober assessment of the political situation that had arisen after years of tyranny, exploitation and oppression of my people by whites.”
The ANC’s armed wing was later involved in a series of high-profile bombings that killed civilians, and many in the white minority viewed the imprisoned Mandela as a terrorist. Up until 2008, when President George W. Bush rescinded the order, he could not visit the US without a waiver from the secretary of state certifying he was not a terrorist. From the late 1960s South Africa gradually became an international pariah, expelled from the UN, banned from the Olympics. In 1973 Mandela refused a government offer of release on condition he agree to confine himself to his native Transkei.
In 1982 he and other top ANC inmates were moved off Robben Island to a mainland prison. Three years later Mandela was again offered freedom, and again he refused unless segregation laws were scrapped and the government negotiated with the ANC. In 1989, F.W. de Klerk became president. This Afrikaner recognized the end was near for white-ruled South Africa. Mandela, for his part, continued, even in his last weeks in prison, to advocate nationalyzing banks, mines and monopoly industries — a stance that frightened the white business community. But talks were already underway, with Mandela being spirited out of prison to meet a white Cabinet minister. On Feb. 11, 1990, inmate No. 46664, who had once been refused permission to leave prison for his mother’s funeral, went free and walked hand-in-hand with Winnie, his wife.
Blacks across the country erupted in joy — as did many whites. Mandela took charge of the ANC, shared the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize with de Klerk and was elected president by a landslide in South Africa’s first all-race election the following year. At his inauguration, he stood hand on heart, saluted by white generals as he sang along to two anthems: the apartheid-era Afrikaans “Die Stem,” (“The Voice“) and the African “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” (“Lord Bless Africa“). To black South Africans expecting a speedy new deal, Mandela pleaded for patience.
The millions denied proper housing, schools and health care under apartheid had expected the revolution to deliver quick fixes, but Mandela recognized he had to embrace free market policies to keep white-dominated big business on his side and attract foreign investment. For all his saintly image, Mandela had an autocratic streak. When black journalists mildly criticized his government, he painted them as stooges of the whites who owned the media. Whites with complaints were dismissed as pining for their old privileges. He denounced Bush as a warmonger and the US having “committed unspeakable atrocities in the world.”
When asked about his closeness to Fidel Castro and Muammar Qaddafi despite human rights violations in the countries they ruled, Mandela explained that he wouldn’t forsake supporters of the anti-apartheid struggle. With his fellow Nobelist, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, he set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which allowed human rights offenders of all races to admit their crimes publicly in return for lenient treatment. It proved to be a kind of national therapy that would become a model for other countries emerging from prolonged strife.
He increasingly left the governing to Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, who took over when Mandela’s term ended in June 1999 and he declined to seek another — a rarity among African presidents.
“I must step down while there are one or two people who admire me,” Mandela joked at the time. When he retired, he said he was going to stand on a street with a sign that said: “Unemployed, no job. New wife and large family to support.” His marriage to Winnie had fallen apart after his release and he was now married to Graca Machel, the widowed former first lady of neighboring Mozambique. He is survived by Machel; his daughter Makaziwe by his first marriage, and daughters Zindzi and Zenani by his second.
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Major events in the life of Nelson Mandela July 18, 1918
July 18, 1918 — Born to Hendry Mphakanyiswa, a Thembu chief, and Nosekeni Qunu in the Umtata district of the Transkei, at a time when virtually all of Africa was under European colonial rule
1940 — Expelled from University of Fort Hare, a leading institution for blacks, for role in a student strike with Oliver Tambo, a future African National Congress president. Moves to Johannesburg.
1942 — Joins African National Congress.
1943 — Receives BA from Fort Hare after completing correspondence courses through University of South Africa.
1944 — Helps form the ANC Youth League with Tambo and Walter Sisulu to more aggressively push for racial equality. Marries Evelyn Mase, Sisulu’s cousin.
1947 — Mandela elected secretary of youth league.
1950 — Becomes president of ANC Youth League, elected to ANC national executive committee
1952 — Leads the Defiance Campaign, encouraging people to break racial separation laws. Convicted under Suppression of Communism Act, banned from attending gatherings and leaving Johannesburg. With Tambo, forms the first black law partnership in the country.
1956 — Charged with treason, along with 155 other South Africans of all races who had supported the Freedom Charter calling for a non-racial democracy and a socialist-based economy. They were all acquitted after a four-year trial.
1958 — Marries social worker Winnie Nomzamo Madikizela after divorcing Evelyn.
1961 — Helps establish ANC guerrilla wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, or Spear of the Nation. He would say later the decision to take up arms came after a “sober assessment of the political situation that had arisen after years of tyranny, exploitation and oppression of my people by whites.”
January 1962 — Leaves the country for military training and to gather support for Umkhonto weSizwe.
July 1962 — Returns to South Africa via Botswana and drives to Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia. Travels to KwaZulu-Natal to report back to ANC President Chief Albert Luthuli and other comrades.
Aug. 5, 1962: Arrested near Howick. Charged with illegally leaving the country and incitement to strike and sentenced to five years’ hard labor.
Nov. 7, 1962 — Sentenced to five years for incitement and leaving the country illegally and assigned the prisoner number 19476/62.
May 1963 — Sent to Robben Island.
October, 1963 — Charged with sabotage in Rivonia Trial.
April 20, 1964 — At a time when African colonies are becoming independent makes his speech from the dock in which he says he is “prepared to die” for a democratic South Africa.
June 11, 1964 — All except two of Rivonia Trialists convicted of sabotage.
June 12, 1964 — Mandela and seven others sentenced to life imprisonment. All except Goldberg are sent to Robben Island to serve their sentences. Goldberg, as the only white person convicted in the trial, is held in Pretoria Central Prison. Mandela is assigned the prisoner number 466/64.
1968 — Mandela’s mother Nosekeni dies. He is forbidden from attending her funeral.
1969 — Mandela’s eldest son Thembekile is killed in a car accident. Mandela is forbidden from attending his funeral.
1982 — Mandela, Sisulu, Mhlaba and Mlangeni and later Kathrada are transferred to Pollsmoor Prison. Mandela is assigned the prisoner number 220/82.
1973 — Refuses a government offer of release on condition he agrees to a kind of exile in his native Transkei.
1985 — Another release offer, on condition he renounce violence. In fiery refusal, read by his daughter Zindzi at a rally, Mandela says burden is on the government to renounce violence, legalize the ANC, scrap segregation laws and agree to political negotiations. Goldberg, who has been held apart from his comrades for more than 20 years, accepts the offer and is released.
1985 — Undergoes surgery on his prostate gland at the Volks Hospital in Cape Town. Visited in hospital by Justice Minister Kobie Coetsee.
May 1986 — Meets with an Eminent Persons Group from the Commonwealth Group of Nations.
July 1986 — Wrote to the Commissioner of Prisons requesting a meeting on a matter of national importance. He requested a meeting with Kobie Coetsee. Met with Coetsee where he first raised the issue of talks about talks between the National Party Government and the ANC. Also asked to meet President PW Botha.
November 1987 — Govan Mbeki is released from Robben Island.
August 1988 — Contracts tuberculosis and is admitted to Tygerberg Hospital where he remains for six weeks.
December 1988 — Continues his recuperation at Constantiaberg MediClinic.
Dec. 9, 1988 — Is transferred to Victor Verster Prison near Paarl where he is held in the house formerly occupied by a warder. Mandela is assigned the prisoner number 1335/88.
July 1989 — Meets P.W. Botha.
October 1989 — Sisulu, Kathrada, Motsoaledi, Mlangeni and Mhlaba are released.
December 1989 — Meets F.W. de Klerk.
Feb. 2, 1990 — At the opening of Parliament President F.W. de Klerk’s announces the unbanning of all political organizations including the African National Congress.
Feb. 9, 1990 — Meets de Klerk and is informed of his release the next day. He was to be released in Johannesburg. Mandela objects saying he wants to walk out of the prison at Victor Verster and asks for an extra week for ANC people on the outside to prepare. De Klerk refuses the extension but agrees to release him at Victor Verster.
Feb. 10, 1990 — De Klerk announces at a press conference that Nelson Mandela will be released the next day.
Feb. 11, 1990 — Nelson Mandela is released from Victor Verster Prison to cheering crowds. Addresses thousands of well-wishers gathered on the Grand Parade, from the balcony of the City Hall in Cape Town. Spends the night at Bishopscourt, the official residence of the Archbishop of Cape Town.
Feb. 12, 1990 — Holds a press conference in the garden of Bishopscourt. Flies to Johannesburg.
Feb. 12, 1990 — Stays the night in North Riding at the home of a supporter Sally Rowney.
Feb. 13, 1990 — Flies to FNB Stadium in Soweto for a welcome home rally. Spends his first night in decades at his family home of 8115 Orlando West, Soweto.
1991 — Mandela elected president of ANC. The government, ANC and 17 other political groups begin formal negotiations on a new constitution.
1993 — Draft constitution adopted, opening the way to South Africa’s first all-race election in April 1994. Mandela and President F.W. de Klerk receive Nobel Peace Prize for their work in negotiating an end to apartheid.
April 1994 — ANC wins elections. May 10, 1994 — Mandela inaugurated as South Africa’s first black president.
June 24, 1995 — South Africa defeats New Zealand in the finals of the Rugby World before fans who include Mandela, wearing the jersey of Francois Penaar, South Africas team captain.
1996 — Mandela granted a divorce from Winnie. 1998 — Mandela weds former Mozambican first lady Graca Machel on his 80th birthday.
April 5, 1999 — Two Libyan suspects handed over to UN representative for trial in the Netherlands in the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jet over Scotland after intensive diplomatic efforts by Mandela.
June 16, 1999 — Mandela retires after one term, a rarity among African presidents, but continues to be active in causes promoting world peace, supporting children and fighting AIDS.
October 1999 — Now a former president and sought-after international mediator, Mandela tours Iran, Syria, Jordan, the Palestinian territories and Israel.
Jan. 30, 2003 — In speech, calls US President George W. Bush arrogant and shortsighted for ignoring the UN on Iraq.
2004 — Announces retirement from public life.
Jan. 6, 2005 — Eldest son Makgatho dies. Mandela announces the cause is AIDS-related complications, saying the only way to fight the disease’s stigma is to speak openly.
July 18, 2007 — Celebrates 89th birthday by launching “council of elders” — Nobel peace laureates, politicians and development experts dedicated to finding new ways to foster peace and resolve global crises.
June 25, 2008 — In speech in London, goes further than his government in first public comments about Zimbabwe’s political crisis, referring to “the tragic failure of leadership in our neighboring Zimbabwe.”
July 18, 2009 — 91st birthday declared international Mandela Day, which organizers hope will become annual day devoted to service to communities.
July 11, 2010 — Mandela waves to the crowd at Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg as South Africa bids farewell to the 2010 soccer World Cup. Driven in a small golf cart and seated alongside wife, Graca Machel, the smiling, warmly dressed Mandela is welcomed by a thunderous mix of vuvuzelas and roars from the crowd.
Jan. 28, 2011 — Mandela released from hospital after spending two nights there for a respiratory infection.
June 21, 2011 — Mandela meets at his home with Michelle Obama, her two daughters and other Obama relatives. Feb. 26, 2012 — Mandela is released from a hospital after overnight stay for minor diagnostic surgery to determine the cause of an abdominal complaint.
December 2012 — Mandela spends nearly three weeks in a hospital, where he is treated for a lung infection and has a procedure to remove gallstones.
March 9, 2013 — Mandela spends a night in the hospital for a medical exam. March 28, 2013 — Mandela admitted to a hospital with a lung infection.
April 6, 2013 — Mandela is released from the hospital after being diagnosed with pneumonia and having fluid drained from his lung area.
April 29, 2013 — State television broadcasts footage of a visit by President Jacob Zuma and other ANC leaders to Mandela at his Johannesburg home. Zuma said at the time that Mandela was in good shape, but the footage — the first public images of Mandela in nearly a year — showed him silent and unresponsive, even when Zuma tried to hold his hand.
June 8, 2013 — The government says Mandela is admitted to a hospital with a recurring lung infection. Officials describe his condition as serious but stable.
December 5, 2013 — Mandela dies at age 95. South African President Jacob Zuma makes the announcement at a news conference, saying “we’ve lost our greatest son.”