Former President of South Africa and humanitarian Nelson “Madiba” Mandela (pictured last year on his birthday) turns 95 today, and the remarkable life of the anti-apartheid champion and AIDS activist is worthy of celebration. Before becoming a global figure, Mandela’s early life would groom him for the leadership role he later undertook.
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Mandela was born on this date in 1918 as part of the Thembu tribe dynasty. He was practically royalty, as his paternal grandfather was once king to the Thembu people. A prodigious student, he was the first of his family to attend school and excelled early on. When he got to Fort Hare University, Mandela’s politics became even more charged, and he would embrace policies centered on the struggles of Blacks in his homeland.
After fleeing to Johannesburg to avoid an arranged marriage, Mandela took odd jobs before landing with a law firm and obtained a degree from the University of South Africa. Law school beckoned Mandela, and while attending the University of the Witwatersrand, he became entrenched in anti-apartheid activism.
Watch Madiba’s life story here:
The Afrikaner-led National was the ruling political party, and Mandela opposed them and the oppressive circumstances of apartheid the party upheld. Mandela would join the African National Congress (ANC) in the early 1950s, laying down the blueprint for his apartheid work. After some infighting with the ANC, Mandela would become leader of the armed wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe, in 1961.
Mandela, frustrated by the National Party’s governmental control, threatened bombings and other signs of unrest while heading Umkhonto we Sizwe. He and his group were deemed terrorists and Mandela would go on the run.
Mandela was arrested in 1962 and was sentenced to five years in prison for organizing a worker’s strike. Eventually, the government discovered Mandela’s plot to set off bombs in the country, marking him a violent individual.
Standing defiant in face of a lengthy prison term, Mandela would spend the next 27 years behind bars. The harsh conditions and circumstances morphed him into a political figure, and he used his platform to continually lash out against apartheid.
In 1990, then-President F.W. de Klerk would pardon the ANC and other anti-apartheid groups – eventually granting Mandela freedom. Mandela would lead the ANC for the next four years, continuing his anti-apartheid journey.
After the historic multiracial elections of South Africa on April 27, 1994, Mandela’s ANC would win handedly, leading to his presidency.
Mandela became the country’s first Black leader and sought to iron out the tense race relations in the country.
Mandela’s story is an epic and sweeping tale of transformation, uphill battles, and eventual triumph.
Currently, the great leader’s health has been the topic of debate and concern. Spending the last 41 days battling a lung infection, South Africans and the world were given a glimmer of hope as his daughter Zindzi said that her father’s condition has improved and that she hopes to have him home soon. Mandela’s grandson Ndaba also confirmed that his grandfather is getting back his strength.
On this day, South African President Jacob Zuma has urged the nation to celebrate Mandela’s birthday with the same passion and support they’ve given him since he’s been hospitalized. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama have also called on the world to show their respect for Mandela, especially given that the news has been dire for so long.
Mandela’s incredible will to never waver in the face of those who imprisoned him proved he was made of stronger fiber than most. The grace and eloquence he manned his post as president further cemented his great legacy. Nelson Mandela will forever be regarded highly for everything that he’s accomplished; he continues to be honored by his people — and the world.
Happy Birthday, Nelson Mandela! God bless your life, Madiba!