South African President Jacob Zuma made the announcement at a news conference yesterday at 5.45 pm TT time, telling the world, “we have lost our greatest son.” Mandela’s death at his home in Johannesburg closed the final chapter in South Africa’s struggle to cast off apartheid, leaving the world with indelible memories of a man of astonishing grace and good humour.
As South Africa’s first black president, the ex-boxer, lawyer and prisoner No 46664 paved the way to racial reconciliation with well-chosen gestures of forgiveness. He lunched with the prosecutor who sent him to jail, sang the apartheid-era Afrikaans anthem at his inauguration and travelled hundreds of miles to have tea with the widow of Hendrik Verwoerd, prime minister at the time Mandela was imprisoned.
In his writings, he pondered the heavy cost to his family of his decision to devote himself to the struggle against apartheid. He was convicted of treason, sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964 for leading a campaign of sabotage against the government and sent to the notorious Robben Island prison.
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 crusade.
As time passed, “the long, lonely, wasted years”, as he termed it, international awareness of apartheid grew more acute. By the time Mandela turned 70, he was the world’s most famous political prisoner. Such were his mental reserves, though, that he turned down conditional offers of freedom from his apartheid jailers and even found a way to benefit from confinement.
Thousands died, were tortured or imprisoned in the decades-long struggle against apartheid, so when Mandela emerged from prison in 1990, smiling and waving to the crowds, the image became an international icon of freedom to rival the fall of Germany’s Berlin Wall.
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.
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born July 18, 1918, the son of a tribal chief in Transkei, one of the future Bantustans, independent republics, set up by the apartheid regime to cement the separation of whites and blacks.
Mandela began his rise through the anti-apartheid movement in 1944, when he helped form the ANC Youth League. He organised 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.
He was arrested in 1962 and sentenced to five years’ hard labour 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.
In 1973 Mandela refused a government offer of release on condition he agree to confine himself to his native Transkei. In 1982 he and other top ANC inmates were moved off Robben Island to a mainland prison. Three years later Mandela was again offered freedom, and again he refused unless segregation laws were scrapped and the government negotiated with the ANC.
In 1989, FW de Klerk became president. He recognised the end was near for white-ruled South Africa. On February 11, 1990, inmate No 46664, who had once been refused permission to leave prison for his mother’s funeral, was set free and walked hand-in-hand with Winnie, his wife. Blacks across the country erupted in joy, as did many whites. Mandela took charge of the ANC, shared the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize with de Klerk and was elected president by a landslide in South Africa’s first all-race election the following year.
With his fellow Nobelist, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mandela set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which allowed human rights offenders of all races to admit their crimes publicly in return for lenient treatment.
It proved to be a kind of national therapy that would become a model for other countries emerging from prolonged strife. He increasingly left the governing to Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, who took over when Mandela’s term ended in June 1999 and he declined to seek another — a rarity among African presidents.
His marriage to Winnie ending not too long after his release from prison, Mandela married Graca Machel, the widowed former first lady of neighbouring Mozambique.
Mandela is survived by Machel, daughter Makaziwe by his first marriage and daughters Zindzi and Zenani by his second.
KEY MOMENTS IN MANDELA’S LIFE
July 18, 1918 — Born to Hendry Mphakanyiswa a Thembu chief and Nosekeni Qunu in the Umtata district of the Transkei.
1942 — Joins African National Congress (ANC) South Africa’s main campaigner for black equality.
June 4, 1948 — National Party, dominated by white Dutch-descended Afrikaners, elected to power and initiates apartheid, a system of complete racial segregation. It will rule without interruption for 46 years.
1952 — Mandela leads the Defiance Campaign, encouraging people to break racial separation laws. Convicted under Suppression of Communism Act, banned from attending gatherings and leaving Johannesburg.
1958 — Marries social worker Winnie Nomzamo Madikizela after divorcing Evelyn Mase, his first wife.
April 20, 1964 — During trial for sabotage, declares from the dock he is, “prepared to die” for a democratic South Africa.
June 12, 1964 — Mandela and six others sentenced to life imprisonment.
1973 — Refuses government offer of release on condition he agrees to of exile in his native Transkei.
Feb 10, 1985 — Another release offer, on condition he renounce violence. In fiery refusal, read by his daughter Zindzi at a rally, Mandela says burden is on the government to renounce violence, end apartheid and negotiate.
July 5, 1989 — Meets President PW Botha.
Dec 13, 1989 — Meets Botha’s successor, FW de Klerk.
Feb 11, 1990 — Mandela walks out of prison, hand in hand with wife Winnie, to cheering crowds.
Oct 15, 1993 — Mandela and de Klerk share Nobel Peace Prize.
May 10, 1994 — Mandela inaugurated as South Africa’s first black president after ANC wins South Africa’s first all-race election.
March 19, 1996 — Mandela granted a divorce from Winnie.
July 18, 1998 — Mandela weds former Mozambican first lady Graca Machel on his 80th birthday.
June 16, 1999 — Mandela retires after one term as South Africa’s President
June 1, 2004 — Announces retirement from public life.
December 2012 — Spends nearly three weeks in a hospital where he is treated for a lung infection and has a procedure to remove gallstones.
December 5, 2013 — Mandela dies at age 95.