The Life and Legacy of Nelson Mandela 100 Years After his Birth

A hundred years ago on this date (18 July), Nelson Mandela was born in the small of village Mvezo in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Although he passed away in 2013, Nelson Mandela’s life and legacy is revered not only in South Africa but worldwide.

His was a life and story of perseverance, strength and commitment. Having been confronted by the challenges of apartheid, 27 years of imprisonment and doubt from many, Nelson Mandela stood strong and improved millions of lives in South Africa and beyond as an activist, leader, politician and humanitarian.

Despite experiencing difficulties in tackling injustice and discrimination, Mandela remained committed to fighting against apartheid. On 5th August 1962, Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for attempting to overthrow South Africa’s apartheid regime. Under Apartheid rule, the state was under strict and systematic racial segregation which led to the black majority being severely discriminated against by the white minority.

The Legacy of Nelson Mandela 100 Years After his Birth
Nelson Mandela’s prison cell on Robben Island | Witstinkhout | wikimedia commons


Mandela spent 27 years in prison until his release at the age of 71. “I went for a long holiday for 27 years”, Mandela once said. Throughout his imprisonment and up until his release in 1991, he remained undeterred and determined to end the system of apartheid. He was awarded a Nobel prize in 1993 and became South Africa’s first black president in 1994.”. His emersion in the anti- apartheid did not only cost his freedom but cost him his family life. His second wife Winnie Mandela described taking their children for prison visits as “traumatic” and “painful.

Many have noted that Nelson Mandela was a humble leader. Following his death, many tributes illustrated key examples of this quality. Africa National Congress (ANC) Deputy Secretary-General Jessie Duarte, who was Mandela’s personal assistant between 1990-94, explained how he always made his own bed during their travels. On a visit to Shanghai where Chinese hospitality requires that those cleaning and providing you with food do just that as doing it yourself could be regarded as an insult, she had to bring the cleaning ladies so that he could explain why he had to make his bed on his own.

Neville Alexander, a political activist who spent ten years imprisoned on Robben Island along with Mandela, described how from their first meeting he was impressed by Mandela’s warmth and genuine interest. From Mandela, Neville Alexander said that he learned how to give full attention to others in order to take notice and listen to them carefully.

The Life and Legacy of Nelson Mandela 100 Years After his Birth
Lime quarry on Robben Island where Mandela and other prisoners were forced to carry out hard labour | Rüdiger Wölk | wikimedia commons


Added to his humility and commitment, as the president of post-apartheid South Africa, he demonstrated how the divided country could become more united through forgiveness. He for example invited one of his former jailers to a dinner that marked the 20th anniversary of his release from prison, in 1994 he invited Paul Gregory, his former prison guard to his inauguration ceremony and in 1995 he had lunch with Percy Yutar, a prosecutor who had called for Mandela to be given a death penalty during his treason trial.

These examples and many more demonstrate how Mandela was a leader like no other who deserves the admiration he gets from people the world over. For leaders today, Mandela is the perfect example of how commitment to positive virtues, sacrifice and unwavering determination can change the lives of millions.

The political landscape and the ANC in South Africa has been riddled with controversy and disunity over the past few years. Under the leadership of Jacob Zuma political accountability was destroyed and democracy was undermined by corruption. Under the new leadership of Cyril Ramaphosa, we can only hope that this narrative can be shifted to reflect the key qualities that pushed Mandela to fight for not only a better South Africa but a better world.

Featured image | Nelson Mandela | | flickr

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.

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