Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Madiba Mandela: A Father To a Legacy

By guest contributor Allyson Clancy

Madiba: the name of the isiXhosa clan that Nelson Mandela belongs to.  The clan dates back to the 18th century, and the name was originally given to a Thembu Chief.

Rolihlahla: Mandela’s birth name. The literal translation means, “pulling a branch of a tree,” but the phrase is interpreted to mean troublemaker.

Tata: isiXhosa for father.[1]

Nelson Mandela, the first black president of South Africa and one of the most influential leaders of his time, is known by all three of the names above. From the central Transkei region where he was born to the coastal city, Cape Town in the southwestern part of the country where he proclaimed his freedom after imprisonment, to the capital Pretoria where he currently lives at the age of 94, his name has been immortalized as his legacy lives on.

As of today, Mandela remains in stable but ‘critical’ condition as he heads into his third week of hospitalization for a lung infection at the Medi-Clinic Heart Hospital in Pretoria. This is not the first time that the former president has required medical assistance, and doctors believe his current infection may be due to the tuberculosis he contracted while he was in prison on Robben Island in the 1980s. He is attended to by his many close friends and family, visited often by the current President Jacob Zuma, and thought of by the millions across the world, like me, who are inspired everyday with his perseverance and aspirations.[2] On Thursday, June 26th, 95 white balloons were released in the air to honor Mr. Mandela, one for each year of his life. Doves were also lifted in hopes that the former president would recover. And, when the vigil was announced that night, a plea for Madiba’s recovery that carried through the weekend, I lowered my head with theirs and said my own prayers for the great leader.

The balloons released for Mandela's birthday

In the Spring 2012 I had the opportunity to live, study and volunteer in Cape Town, South Africa. Although I learned of Mandela’s efforts against the apartheid government in grade school, I never fully understood the impact of a racial minority rule government like the one that held power in South Africa from the 1940s until the 1990s. I certainly had my own expectations of Africa as I traveled to the southern region, and I did know of Nelson Mandela as an aspiring figure who brought South Africa the justice it deserved since the National Party inflicted harsh apartheid governance in 1948.[3]

From the onset, what I experienced and observed in South Africa changed my entire perception on the country, region, continent and the man who I learned about in history class. Over the course of six months, I got to walk in Mandela’s footsteps at Robben Island, where he spent 18 out of a total of 27 years imprisoned for standing up for what he believed in. I caught glimpses of what life was like in the 1990s with him as the first black president from stories told by friends who still held on to those unforgettable memories. I still see the hope he holds for his country in the eyes of the students I shared classes with at University of Cape Town (UCT).

A father to a new nation, Mandela’s legacy is one that every leader should learn from. I found he was not just a political activist who wanted to change the government and provide more equal opportunities.  He was a man who would not sacrifice what he knew to be right for anything less than true, honest change.  Most importantly, he was an individual who could see a better future for his family, his country, and his people. 

Nelson Mandela began his path to justice in the early 1940s when he joined the African National Congress (ANC) party, one of the few political parties at the time who stood up again the National Party and its apartheid structure.[4] During his first 20 years with the party, Mandela focused on non-violent protests against the long-standing unjust government, orchestrating worker strikes, rallies and campaigns against laws that promoted the segregation and inequality between the white minority and the black majority. By the 1960s the ANC had begun to use a more violent strategy to fight for freedoms, to which the National Party resisted and sentenced major leaders, such as Mandela, to a life sentence on Robben Island.

Fast forward another 20 years and you will find Nelson Mandela still imprisoned on Robben Island, the second of three prisons he would inhabit during his lifetime. However, South Africa was well on its way towards a new form of government, after years on the receiving end of disapproval, criticism and economic sanctions from the international community. Mandela became a symbol both within the country and in the international theatre for his unwillingness to accept any agreement that did not establish equality for blacks in the country, adding more pressure to the National Party to abandon apartheid.

After Mandela’s release in 1990, he became the president of the ANC and hastened efforts to end the violence and apartheid rule. He received the Nobel Peace prize in 1993 for his dedication to resolving the conflict that plagued the country for centuries, and then moved forward to become the first black President of South Africa in 1994 after the country held its first democratic elections.

On July 18, 2009, the United Nations General Assembly declared the day to be named Mandela Day in honor of his birthday and the peace he seeks to restore worldwide. In the most recent visit to South Africa, President Barack Obama called him a “hero for the world,” but he is more than a hero: he is the hope that still ignites his country, and others, towards a better future. Mabida is a Tata that every country needs, one who is relentless in his mission for justice, unity and equality. This country does not forget, and will honor the great leader eternally.

[1] The following translations were found on the following website: http://www.nelsonmandela.org/content/page/names
[2] Information taken from the following BBC article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-23085736
[3] More about the history of the politics of South Africa during the mid 20th century and Mandela’s involvement can be found here: http://www.biography.com/people/nelson-mandela-9397017?page=1

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