Nelson Mandela, former South African president and freedom fighter, dies aged 95
Former South African president Nelson Mandela, one of the greatest freedom fighters and political leaders of the 20th century, has died aged 95 after a year-long battle with a lung infection.
South African president Jacob Zuma announced on national television that Mr Mandela had passed away peacefully at his Johannesburg home, surrounded by family members and friends.
“He’s now at peace. Our nation has lost its greatest son, our people have lost a father. Although we knew this day would come, nothing can diminish our sense of a profound and enduring loss,” Mr Zuma said. “This is the moment of our deepest sorrow.”
More than a dozen cars had brought visitors, including two of his grand-daughters, and military personnel to his house in the hours before the announcement. In London, his daughter Zindzi had said her father was “fine” as she attended the premiere of a new film about his life. According to British news reports she “seemed to be overcome” once inside.
Hundreds of South Africans gathered outside the house in the middle of the night for an impromptu vigil, dancing the “Madiba jive”, singing anti-apartheid songs and shouting “Viva Mandela!”. Some were draped in flags, others still wore their pyjamas.
Mr Zuma said there would be a state funeral and ordered flags be flown at half-mast.
South Africa’s archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu said Mr Mandela had healed a divided nation. “We are relieved that his suffering is over, but our relief is drowned by our grief. May he rest in peace and rise in glory,” he said.
US president Barack Obama called Mr Mandela a “courageous, profoundly good” man who “took history in his hands”. “I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example that Nelson Mandela set,” Mr Obama said, later also ordering flags at half-mast.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott paid tribute to a “truly great man … ennobled through suffering”. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Mr Mandela was the defining symbol of reconciliation.
Mr Mandela, who was elected as South Africa’s first black president in 1994, was an iconic figurehead in international protests against South Africa’s system of racial segregation known as apartheid.
He was imprisoned for 27 years for his militant opposition to the regime, including 18 years in the notorious Robben Island prison.
Nothing can diminish our sense of a profound and enduring loss. This is the moment of our deepest sorrow.South African president Jacob Zuma
Mr Mandela – who was often referred to in his home country by his clan name Madiba – was widely revered around the world for his efforts to unify South Africa after the end of apartheid. After his release from prison in 1990, he led negotiations to make the country a fully representative, multi-racial democracy.
During his time as president from 1994 to 1999, Mr Mandela’s government tackled institutionalised racism, poverty and inequality in South Africa, and pushed for racial reconciliation. His anti-apartheid stance saw him receive over 250 awards – including the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize, the US Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Soviet Order of Lenin.
Mandela’s early years: A life of activism
Born Rolihlahla Mandela in South Africa’s Transkei region in 1918, Mr Mandela’s early years were spent herding cattle.
His father’s death forced him to move into his uncle’s home at the age of nine, but he eventually ran away from the family to avoid an arranged marriage.
He was the first member of his family to go to school. The name Nelson was bestowed by one of his teachers.
The common ground is greater and more enduring than the differences that divide.Nelson Mandela’s slogan
Mr Mandela studied law, qualifying in 1942 and meeting Oliver Tambo, who later became his partner in a small law firm and a key member of the anti-apartheid struggle in his own right.
He joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1944 and become part of the active resistance to apartheid after the National Party, which was dominated by white, Afrikaans-speaking South Africans, came to power in 1948.
A prominent figure in ANC campaigns, Mr Mandela was one of 150 people tried for treason between 1956 and 1961. He was acquitted, but the ANC was then banned, prompting Mr Mandela to argue for the creation of a military wing of the organisation.
In 1961, the ANC executive decided that it would not stop members who wished to join Mr Mandela’s campaign, and the ANC’s armed wing, dubbed Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), was created.
With Mr Mandela at the helm, Umkhonto we Sizwe began a sabotage campaign against government targets, and worked to raise funds abroad for a possible guerilla war.
Another ANC member, Wolfie Kodesh, later explained that even though the campaign – which included deadly bombings, attacks on power infrastructure, and crop burning – had been designed to “blast the symbolic places of apartheid”, every effort was made to avoid causing deaths or injuries.
Mr Mandela himself described the move to an armed struggle as a last resort.
Mr Mandela was arrested in August 1962 after living on the run for more than a year. He was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment with hard labour for leading workers to strike and leaving the country illegally, a charge stemming from a trip to Algeria for military training.
In 1963, Mr Mandela was brought to stand trial alongside fellow leaders of the ANC and Umkhonto we Sizwe for plotting to overthrow the government by violence.
On the stand, he gave an impassioned speech that would resonate around the world.
“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to the struggle of the African people,” he 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.”
Imprisonment and freedom: ‘I was not a messiah’
Eight of the men on trial, including Mr Mandela, were eventually sentenced to life imprisonment.
Mr Mandela served most of his jail sentence on Robben Island, off the coast of Cape Town, and refused offers of release subject to him renouncing violence and living in a special administrative tribal area.
As the years dragged on, Mr Mandela became an increasingly potent symbol of opposition to the National Party’s apartheid regime, both inside South Africa and internationally. “I was not a messiah, but an ordinary man who had become a leader because of extraordinary circumstances,” Mr Mandela once said.
The “Free Nelson Mandela” slogan echoed from stages and rallies around the world and became the rallying cry of the anti-apartheid movement.
Freedom finally came for Mr Mandela in 1989, after the then-South African president, PW Botha, suffered a stroke. Botha’s replacement, FW de Klerk, ordered Mr Mandela’s release on February 11, 1990, 27 years after he was jailed.
Mr de Klerk revoked the ban on the ANC, which once again became a legitimate political party headed by Mr Mandela.
Mr Mandela and Mr de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. Mr Mandela was also named Time magazine’s man of the year.
“He was a great unifier and a very, very special man in this regard beyond everything else he did,” Mr de Klerk told CNN after Mr Zuma’s address. “This emphasis on reconciliation was his biggest legacy.”
He came to power a year later as South Africa’s first democratically elected president, taking office aged 76. Mr de Klerk was named first deputy president with Thabo Mbeki serving as second deputy of a national unity government.
Mr Mandela committed his presidency to pursuing national reconciliation, delivering a new constitution among wider legal and social reforms. Welfare and healthcare spending was increased, education programs were extended and infrastructure improvements were delivered to poor communities.
He established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which spent two years hearing the stories of those persecuted under the former regime and offered amnesties to some of their persecutors. He also took a lead role in African affairs and was a fixture on the world stage, hosting international leaders as well as celebrities including Michael Jackson and the Spice Girls.
The 1995 Rugby World Cup provided the iconic moment of his presidency. Having urged his countrymen to back the Springboks, traditionally hated by black South Africans as a symbol of the regime, Mr Mandela famously donned the green jersey of Francois Pienaar to hand the South African captain the trophy after an epic win over the All Blacks in the final.
The moment was featured in the film Invictus, starring Morgan Freeman as Mr Mandela. “(He) was a man of incomparable honour, unconquerable strength, and unyielding resolve – a saint to many, a hero to all who treasure liberty,” Freeman said.
However some have been critical of his time in office, saying he was a better revolutionary than president. His desire to engage the white South African population put some ANC supporters offside, while some broad employment and economic programs were shelved due to budget constraints.
Asked about such criticisms, Mr Mandela replied: “It helps to make you human”.
While he may not have fulfilled his promise as a president, he was widely commended for resisting the lure of power and stepping down in 1999.
Later years saw Mandela involved in diplomatic negotiations
After stepping down from the presidency, Mr Mandela maintained a heavy schedule of public engagements.
He set up the Nelson Mandela Foundation to identify areas in which he could make a difference, including international politics, poverty and children’s rights. The elder statesman was involved in a number of diplomatic negotiations, including the signing of a peace deal in Burundi.
In 1994 he set up the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund in an effort to change the way society treats children. “No words can adequately describe this enormous loss to our nation and to the world,” the foundation said.
Mr Mandela made few public appearances since he retired from public life in the same year.
In July 2001 he was diagnosed and treated for prostate cancer with a seven-week course of radiation.
One of his most influential acts in recent years was in 2005, following the death of his only son, Makgatho, from AIDS. Mr Mandela urged South Africans to talk about AIDS “so to make it appear like a normal illness”. This was enormously significant in a country where AIDS had been seen as taboo.
In 2008, the year of his 90th birthday, artists such as Queen, Will Smith, Amy Winehouse and Annie Lennox marked the occasion with a huge concert in London’s Hyde Park which drew more than 40,000 people.
The sun will rise tomorrow, and the next day and the next… It may not appear as bright as yesterday, but life will carry on.Desmond Tutu
The following year, Mr Mandela’s birthday was recognised by the UN as Nelson Mandela International Day, and is now celebrated every year in his honour. In July 2010, global leaders and ordinary people in South Africa and abroad committed to devoting 67 minutes of their time to community service to mark the number of years Mr Mandela spent in politics.
His last public appearance was the closing ceremony of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in Johannesburg, when he waved at adoring football fans before the final match kick-off. “When he was honoured and cheered by the crowd … it was as a man of the people, a man of their hearts,” FIFA boss Sepp Blatter said, describing the late president as “one of the great humanist of our time”.
Mr Mandela had campaigned for the country to host the event, but the death of his 13-year-old great-granddaughter on the eve of the tournament’s opening forced him to cancel his planned appearance.
Mr Mandela was taken to hospital in January 2011. He again went into hospital in December 2012, to get treatment for a lung infection. His third wife Graca Machel said at the time that it was painful to see her husband ageing, and to witness some of his spirit and “sparkle” fading.
In the wake of his death, those closest to him said his example of would live on among all South Africans. “The sun will rise tomorrow, and the next day and the next… It may not appear as bright as yesterday, but life will carry on,” archbishop Tutu said.
Nelson Mandela | Life and times
- Obituary: Read about the life of one of the greatest political leaders of the 20th century.
- Photo gallery: Look back on Nelson Mandela’s life in pictures.
- Video: Sally Sara looks back on Mandela’s life and achievements.
- From Mandela’s desk: Explore a gallery of Mandela’s own writings.
- Timeline: View key dates in Mr Mandela’s life.
- As it happened: Look back at our coverage as the world paid tribute to Mr Mandela.