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

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

2005 Associated Press File Photo

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Mandela also stood hand on heart, saluted by white generals as he sang along to two anthems, now one: the apartheid-era Afrikaans “Die Stem,” (“The Voice”) and the African “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” (“Lord Bless Africa”).

Since apartheid ended, South Africa has held four parliamentary elections and elected three presidents, always peacefully, setting an example on a continent where democracy is still new and fragile. However, corruption scandals and other missteps under the ruling African National Congress, the liberation group once led by Mandela, have undercut some of the early promise.

Zuma periodically observes that the South African white minority is far wealthier than the black majority, an imbalance that he regards as a vestige of the apartheid system that bestowed most economic benefits on whites.

When Mandela came to power, black South Africans anticipated quick fixes after being denied proper housing, schools and health care under apartheid. The new government, however, embraced free-market policies to keep white-dominated big business on its side and attract foreign investment. The policy averted the kind of economic deterioration that occurred in Zimbabwe after independence; South Africa, though, has one of the world’s biggest gaps between rich and poor.

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born on July 18, 1918, the son of a tribal chief in Transkei, a Xhosa homeland that later became one of the “Bantustans” set up as independent republics by the apartheid regime to cement the separation of whites and blacks.

Mandela’s royal upbringing gave him a regal bearing that became his hallmark. Many South Africans of all races would later call him by his clan name, Madiba, as a token of affection and respect.

Growing up at a time when virtually all of Africa was under European colonial rule, Mandela attended Methodist schools before being admitted to the black University of Fort Hare in 1938. He was expelled two years later for his role in a student strike.

He moved to Johannesburg and worked as a policeman at a gold mine, boxed as an amateur heavyweight and studied law.

His first wife, nurse Evelyn Mase, bore him four children. A daughter died in infancy, a son was killed in a car crash in 1970 and another son died of AIDS in 2005. The couple divorced in 1957 and Evelyn died in 2004.

Mandela began his rise through the anti-apartheid movement in 1944, when he helped form the ANC Youth League.

He organized a campaign in 1952 to encourage defiance of laws that segregated schools, marriage, housing and job opportunities. The government retaliated by barring him from attending gatherings and leaving Johannesburg, the first of many “banning” orders he was to endure.

After a two-day nationwide strike was crushed by police, he and a small group of ANC colleagues decided on military action and Mandela pushed to form the movement’s guerrilla wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, or Spear of the Nation.

He was arrested in 1962 and sentenced to five years’ hard labor for leaving the country illegally and inciting blacks to strike.

A year later, police uncovered the ANC’s underground headquarters on a farm near Johannesburg and seized documents outlining plans for a guerrilla campaign. At a time when African colonies were one by one becoming independent states, Mandela and seven co-defendants were sentenced to life in prison.

The ANC’s armed wing was later involved in a series of high-profile bombings that killed civilians, and many in the white minority viewed the imprisoned Mandela as a terrorist. The apartheid government, meanwhile, was denounced globally for its campaign of beatings, assassinations and other violent attacks on opponents.

Even in numbing confinement, Mandela sought to flourish.

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