December 5, 2013

Nelson Mandela, beloved South African statesman, dies at 95

The death of the former president and Nobel Peace Prize winner closes the final chapter in South Africa’s struggle to cast off apartheid.

By Christopher Torchia And Marcus Eliason
The Associated Press

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Nelson Mandela, newly elected as president of South Africa, and his wife, Winnie, greet the crowd on July 7, 1991, after arriving at a rally and a weeklong national African National Congressconference held inside South Africa for the first time in 30 years. Mandela has died at age 95.

1991 Associated Press File Photo

click image to enlarge

Former South African President Nelson Mandela has died at age 95.

2005 Associated Press File Photo

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One of the most memorable of his gestures toward racial harmony was the day in 1995 when he strode onto the field before the Rugby World Cup final in Johannesburg, and then again after the game, when he congratulated the home team for its victory over a tough New Zealand team. Mandela was wearing South African colors and the overwhelmingly white crowd of 63,000 was on its feet, chanting “Nelson! Nelson! Nelson!”

It was typical of Mandela to march headlong into a bastion of white Afrikanerdom — in this case the temple of South African rugby — and make its followers feel they belonged in the new South Africa.

The moment was portrayed in “Invictus,” Clint Eastwood’s movie telling the story of South Africa’s transformation through the prism of sport.

It was a moment half a century in the making. In the 1950s, Mandela sought universal rights through peaceful means but was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964 for leading a campaign of sabotage against the government. The speech he gave during that trial outlined his vision and resolve.

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people,” Mandela said. “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 to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

He was confined to the harsh Robben Island prison near Cape Town for most of his time behind bars, then moved to jails on the mainland. It was forbidden to quote him or publish his photo, yet he and other jailed members of his banned African National Congress were able to smuggle out messages of guidance to the anti-apartheid movement, and in the final stages of his confinement, he negotiated secretly with the apartheid leaders who recognized change was inevitable.

Thousands died, or were tortured or imprisoned in the decades-long struggle against apartheid, which deprived the black majority of the vote, the right to choose where to live and travel, and other basic freedoms.

So when inmate No. 46664 went free after 27 years, walking hand-in-hand with his then wife, Winnie, out of a prison on the South African mainland, people worldwide rejoiced. Mandela raised his right fist in triumph, and in his autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom,” he would write: “As I finally walked through those gates ... I felt — even at the age of seventy-one — that my life was beginning anew.”

Mandela’s release, rivaled the fall of the Berlin Wall just a few months earlier as a symbol of humanity’s yearning for freedom, and his graying hair, raspy voice and colorful shirts made him a globally known figure.

Life, however, imposed new challenges on Mandela.

South Africa’s white rulers had portrayed him as the spearhead of a communist revolution and insisted that black majority rule would usher in bloody chaos. Thousands died in factional fighting in the run-up to democratic elections in 1994, and Mandela accused the government of collusion in the bloodshed. But voting day, when long lines of voters waited patiently to cast ballots, passed peacefully, as did Mandela’s inauguration as president

“Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world,” the new president said. “Let freedom reign. The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement! God bless Africa! Thank you.”

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