n July 18 this year, the world remembers one of its famous sons, South Africa’s -Nelson Mandela- the leader of the African National Congress (ANC), who from his youth, embraced the fight against the system of Apartheid.
Apartheid meaning ‘apartness’, was the ideology of the National Party (NP) which introduced the system of Apartheid into South Africa in 1948. It called for the separate development of the different racial groups in South Africa. Brought in laws, which forced the different racial groups to live separately and develop separately, and perpetuated gross inequality.
It tried to stop all inter-marriage and social integration between racial groups. Under Apartheid, to have a friendship with someone of a different race generally brought suspicion upon you, or worse. More than this, apartheid was a social system which severely disadvantaged the black population, simply because they did not share the skin colour of the rulers.
Many were kept just above destitution because they were ‘non-white’.
Being black meant you didn’t receive decent health care, children could go to schools of choice, and black people could not live where they wanted to.
Blacks were corralled into townships (urban slums) if they could get jobs in the city. If not, their urban shacks often were bulldozed and they were forcibly moved to unproductive “homelands.” This was at the heart of the policy of apartheid, or “separateness.”
If you were white, you had access to jobs denied to blacks. The only black professionals were teachers, nurses and doctors, who could only treat blacks; and lawyers, the profession chosen by Mandela, who once believed he could end apartheid by reasoning and
This was the system Nelson Mandela fought to bring down. Born in July 1918, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, political leader, and philanthropist, who served 27 years in prison for his anti-apartheid struggles and was President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999.
He was the country’s first black Head of State and the first President to be elected at an election where all South Africans were free to vote, irrespective of their colour, religion or ethnicity.
Though he died a scant six years ago on December 5, 2013, many today do not remember the struggle, pain and sacrifice Mandela made for not only his people but persecuted and disenfranchised people the world over.
We cannot forget his 27 years of incarceration on Robben Island by the apartheid regime, the defiant, unquenchable spirit he showed from behind bars. His words on the Soweto Uprising, where thousands, mostly students protested, against the government’s insistence that the Afrikaans Language —a language of the white minority that ruled South Africa— be used as the medium of instruction in Soweto’s high schools, which served black Africans.
The apartheid regime responded to the demonstrators by firing live ammunition. Between 400 and 700 people, many of them children were killed.
In a message from prison Mandela said:
“We who are confined within the grey walls of the Pretoria regime’s prisons reach out to our people. With you, we count those who have perished by means of the gun and the hangman’s noose. We salute all of you –the living, the injured and the dead. For you have dared to rise up against the tyrant’s might… Fight on! Between the anvil of united mass action and the hammer of the armed struggle, we shall crush apartheid and white minority racist rule.”
Mandela was a warrior, but he also knew how to make peace and heal wounds.
His 27 years of imprisonment did not make him bitter and frustrated. His experience turned him into the statesman who ultimately steered South Africa away from its black past, shattered the shackles of apartheid and led South Africa away from a blood bath that could have easily overtaken that country in the aftermath of the dismantling of apartheid.
Today 29 years after his release from his prison on Robben Island, his life and struggle against injustice and inequality are fading. But even amid his own suffering and struggles, he did not forget the struggles of other oppressed peoples.
Speaking on the Palestinians struggle for against Zionist oppression, Mandela said: “It behoves all South Africans, erstwhile beneficiaries of generous international support, to stand up and be counted among those contributing actively to the cause of freedom
“...to add our own voice to the universal call for Palestinian self-determination and statehood” because “we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians...”.