Thursday, February 11, 2010

Remembering Nelson Mandela's Release 20 Years Ago

Do I need to tell you who the legend - Nelson Mandela is? He was the first black president of South Africa and served in that capacity from 1994 to 1999. Before he became president, he was an anti-apartheid activist and was convicted to life in prison on charges of sabotage and other crimes committed while he led the movement against the brutal white minority regime. Mandela served 27 years in prison, spending what he calls the "dark years" - 18 years, in a notorious South African prison - on Robben Island. Nelson Mandela was released from prison on 11 February 1990. Today - 11 February 2010, in harmony with the world in general and South Africans in particular, let's pause to remember Nelson Mandela's release 20 years ago.

How it happened, is a true testament of the fact that "nothing can stand in the way of the power of millions of voices calling for change." South Africans were sick and tired of white domination and were in desperate need for change. Many oppressed South Africans looked up to one man to liberate them - that man was Nelson Mandela. Throughout his imprisonment, local and international pressure mounted on the government to release him. South Africa's president at the time - Frederick Willem de Klerk, succumbed to the pressure and announced Mandela' release on February 1990.

On this day - 11 February 1990, Mandela walked out of the Victor Vester Prison, a low security prison where he spent the last 3 years before his release. His release was broadcast live on television channels around the world and South Africa has never been the same again. On the day he walked to freedom, Mandela addressed the nation, declaring his commitment to peace and reconciliation. He said, among other things:
"Today the majority of South Africans, black and white, recognize that apartheid has no future. It has to be ended by our own decisive mass action in order to build peace and security. The mass campaign of defiance and other actions of our organization and people can only culminate in the establishment of democracy. The destruction caused by apartheid on our sub-continent is in-calculable. The fabric of family life of millions of my people has been shattered. Millions are homeless and unemployed. Our economy lies in ruins and our people are embroiled in political strife."
What a speech from a man fresh from prison - where he was subjected to 27 years of unimaginable torture, forced labour and inhumane treatment. He didn't preach war; he didn't preach revenge; he called for forgiveness, reconciliation, peace, security, national unity and democracy.

Nelson Mandela is truly a great moral and political leader of our time! It takes certain rare elements of character to be able to rise from oppression and more than a quarter-century of imprisonment - to president of a "Rainbow Nation" and winner of more than 250 awards, including the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize.

I just started reading Nelson Mandela's autobiography - Long Walk To Freedom. You have to read it! It describes his early life, education and 27 years in prison. It's thought provoking. You won't believe what this legend had to endure. Here's an excerpt from Nelson Mandela's autobiography:
"Apartheid's regulations extended even to clothing. All of us except Kathy, received short trousers, an insubstantial jersey, and a canvas jacket. Kathy, the one Indian among us, was given long trousers. Normally Africans would receive sandals made from car tyres, but in this instance we were given shoes. Kathy, alone, received socks. Short trousers for Africans were meant to remind us that we were "boys.""

Today, Mandela is 91, in good health and according to CCN's Christiane Amanpour - "continues to inspire prisoners of conscience." Permit me to leave you with Mandela's own words during his trial in 1964:
"I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black 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 achieve. But if need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

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