How did the young Nelson Mandela, a radical, hothead and freedom fighter, become a worldwide icon of peace?by Justice Malala / February 20, 2013 / Leave a comment
A Johannesburg mural: when Mandela joined, the ANC was “a rich black man’s debating society.” He went on to form its military wing © AP Photo/Themba Hadebe
They were singing freedom songs in Soweto that morning. A common, mournful tune, sung in the Sesotho language, was among the more popular as dawn approached: “Nelson Mandela! Nelson Mandela! Ha hona ya tshwanang le ena! No one compares to him!”
Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s greatest and most famous son, had passed away at 8.50pm local time on 5th December, President Jacob Zuma announced. A hush fell over the nation, and then a cacophony of commentary and tributes poured in from world leaders around the globe. Speeches were made, and sadness shared, everywhere from Washington to London. Outside Mandela’s family home in Johannesburg crowds gathered; tears covered every face—and smiles, too.
South Africa mourns Mandela. On social networks, in the media, the outpouring of grief is huge; and it will only intensify as we prepare for his state funeral. With it, however, is an immense pride that a human being of the stature of Mandela lived here, walked among us and led us. As South Africa prepares to celebrate 20 years of democracy, the ideas and person of this great man are omnipresent.
When we speak of the “Rainbow Nation” that South Africa has become, it is him we credit with its creation. When we speak of the institutions of democracy that now stand at the centre of our nation and its politics, it is Mandela’s vision and name that epitomises them.
In a country that was divided by 46 years of apartheid until 1994, black and white sang together outside Mandela’s home in Houghton, Johannesburg. Over the past year, as he was frequently hospitalised, and as South Africa’s political atmosphere soured with the elections scheduled for 2014 looming nearer, Mandela always managed to bring South Africans together. The morning after his death, in the harsh light of a world without him, he still unites us. As I write this at 2.38am, it feels as if everyone I know is up and calling each other, tweeting, touching, mourning. Celebrating.
These scenes of joyful remembrance that outside his house in sleepy, suburban Johannesburg are being replicated in Soweto and other parts of the country. Yet there are also fears about what the future might…