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Nelson Mandela, South African Icon of Peaceful Resistance, Dies

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Nelson Mandela

JOHANNESBURG — Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president and an enduring icon of the struggle against racial oppression, died on Thursday, the government announced, leaving the nation without its moral center at a time of growing dissatisfaction with the country’s leaders.

“Our nation has lost its greatest son,” President Jacob Zuma said in a televised address on Thursday night, adding that Mr. Mandela had died at 8:50 p.m. local time. “His humility, his compassion and his humanity earned him our love.”

Mr Zuma called Mr. Mandela’s death “the moment of our greatest sorrow,” and said that South Africa’s thoughts were now with the former president’s family. “They have sacrificed much and endured much so that our people could be free,” he said.

Mr. Mandela spent 27 years in prison after being convicted of treason by the white minority government, only to forge a peaceful end to white rule by negotiating with his captors after his release in 1990. He led the African National Congress, long a banned liberation movement, to a resounding electoral victory in 1994, the first fully democratic election in the country’s history.

Mr. Mandela, who was 95, served just one term as South Africa’s president and had not been seen in public since 2010, when the nation hosted the soccer World Cup. But his decades in prison and his insistence on forgiveness over vengeance made him a potent symbol of the struggle to end this country’s brutally codified system of racial domination, and of the power of peaceful resolution in even the most intractable conflicts.

Years after he retreated from public life, his name still resonated as an emblem of his effort to transcend decades of racial division and create what South Africans called a Rainbow Nation.

Yet Mr. Mandela’s death comes during a period of deep unease and painful self-examination for South Africa.

In the past year and a half, the country has faced perhaps its most serious unrest since the end of apartheid, provoked by a wave of wildcat strikes by angry miners, a deadly response on the part of the police, a messy leadership struggle within the A.N.C. and the deepening fissures between South Africa’s rulers and its impoverished masses.

Scandals over corruption involving senior members of the party have fed a broader perception that Mr. Mandela’s near saintly legacy from the years of struggle has been eroded by a more recent scramble for self-enrichment among a newer elite.

After spending decades in penurious exile, many political figures returned to find themselves at the center of a grab for power and money. President Jacob Zuma was charged with corruption before rising to the presidency in 2009, though the charges were dropped on largely technical grounds. He has faced renewed scrutiny in the past year over $27 million spent in renovations to his house in rural Zululand.

Graphic cellphone videos of police officers abusing people they have detained have further fueled anger at a government seen increasingly out of touch with the lives of ordinary South Africans.

Mr. Mandela served as president from 1994 to 1999, stepping aside to allow his deputy, Thabo Mbeki, to run and take the reins. Mr. Mandela spent his early retirement years focused on charitable causes for children and later speaking out about AIDS, which has killed millions of Africans, including his son Makgatho, who died in 2005.

Mr. Mandela retreated from public life in 2004 at the age of 85, largely withdrawing to his homes in the upscale Johannesburg suburb of Houghton and his ancestral village in the Eastern Cape, Qunu.

~ Lydia Polgreen,  The New York Times


Written by MattAndJojang

December 6, 2013 at 6:44 am

8 Responses

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  1. There was an absolutely stellar interview about Mandela on radio tonight. It wasn’t on one of the mainstream press outlets, but it will be posted as a podcast, I believe. I’ll find the link and time it aired within the three hour show and link it here. The fellow who was speaking about Mandela was very even-handed, and had experience in South Africa to draw on.

    Like all great men, he had his flaws, but that won’t detract from his legacy.


    December 6, 2013 at 11:29 am

  2. It’s true, Linda, that, just like most of us, Nelson Mandela had his flaws. He himself admitted it when he said: “I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”

    A much admired person, he was a charismatic leader and an astute politician who had considerable influence not only in South Africa, but throughout the world. But, I think, he will be most remembered for his humanity.

    President Barack Obama referred to him as a “profoundly good human being.” Also, world leaders who have been interviewed as soon as the news came out that he passed away described him, among other things, as genuine, gracious, warm, gentle, forgiving.

    His main legacy was who he was, who he touched, and what that meant to us.

    My personal opinion is that he’s definitely up high on the list of great people of our times. He is an inspiration to all of us. We will miss him…

    ~ Matt


    December 6, 2013 at 4:04 pm

  3. An inspirational man, who leaves behind an impressive and honorable legacy. May he rest in peace.


    December 6, 2013 at 5:22 pm

  4. Yes, Bill, he left behind a legacy that will be cherished not only by South Africans, but also by the millions of people in our planet who have been inspired by his life. He was not only a great leader, but also, to borrow the words of President Barack Obama, a “profoundly good human being.”

    ~ Matt


    December 6, 2013 at 5:52 pm

  5. The podcast is up now. It’s at the top of the page, the one for December 5, and the interview begins the show, so you don’t have to go looking for it.

    I just heard another quotation from Mandela I’d not heard, and I think it’s so true. “Resentment is like drinking poison, and hoping it will kill your enemy.” If anyone had reason for resentment it would be Mandela. That he escaped the temptation is inspirational.


    December 7, 2013 at 1:23 am

  6. What a loss, but with that loss- the reminder to act always, as Mandela would. What a humble, wise soul- this Earth was blessed to have had him, receiving all the teachings which he passed on. Long Live the Memory of Nelson Mandela.


    December 7, 2013 at 4:48 am

  7. A very insightful podcast. Thanks for sharing, Linda.

    What emerges from the podcast is a multi-layered, multi-dimensional, and even a complicated man in the person of Nelson Mandela. It’s really difficult to pin him down and put him in a box, But one thing is for sure: he evolved from a radical advocating violence to a person who realized that democracy is what will work for his country. In the process, although he was incarcerated for almost 30 years, he decided to forgive his enemies and work with them. He saw this as the only way for South Africa to have a better future. And as he grew older he became the man we know of him.

    Although he is the first to admit that he is flawed, he still is a remarkable person. He will continue to be an inspiration for generations to come…

    ~ Matt


    December 7, 2013 at 8:35 am

  8. A tremendous loss indeed, Beatrice. It will be a long time again before we will see another person like him. But each one of us could build on his legacy by becoming better persons, and making a difference in other people’s lives. May his memory continue to live in our minds and hearts…

    ~ Matt


    December 7, 2013 at 8:37 am

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