Christian La Du brings you up to speed on the great man.
Nelson Mandela was an incredible symbol of international human rights who helped end South Africa’s Apartheid era, was the first black president of the country, and supported humanitarian efforts all over the world.
His death has triggered a massive outpouring of thanks and acknowledgement for his efforts, but many of us Gen-Yers are too young to understand what he did. So, here’s a little list of interesting and important facts about one of the most important men in history:
He was born Rolihlahla Mandela in 1918, a Xhosa born into the Thembu tribe’s royal family.
Many friends and contemporaries said that his calm, collected demeanor no matter the situation is a product of growing up in a family with leadership responsibilities. His father was the local chief, and his son was expected to carry himself accordingly.
He co-founded South Africa’s first black law firm in 1952
After dropping out of college, Mandela managed to go to law school at University of Witwatersrand, and was the only native African in the university. He never ended up getting his law degree, but opened up a law practice with his friend Oliver Tambo.
Mandela swung from pacifist, to militant radical and eventually back to pacifist
Non-violent protest was a huge international movement at the time, following the successful application of these principles by Gandhi. It was concurrently happening in the US Civil Rights movement with Martin Luther King Jr. He was so frustrated by the lack of attention the civil disobedience received from the whites in power that he helped start, plan and operate a strike force within the African National Congress. It wasn’t until his prison years that he reconnected with his pacifist roots.
A four-hour speech likely saved his, and his co-conspirators, lives.
After a series of violent strikes against racist government institutions, Mandela and several of his associates were finally caught (after Mandela earned the nickname “The Black Pimpernel” for his mastery of disguise and escape) and were tried as terrorists. Mandela wore traditional Xhosa clothing to the trial and gave the now legendary “I Am Prepared To Die” speech, which helped create his status as an global human rights legend.
Hard time (27 years) changes a man
As his punishment, he was forced to do hard labor in a limestone mine, where dust ended up literally cementing shut his tear ducts. His incredible dignity helped him befriend his white guards, who told him the news and helped him send messages. This experience helped reinforce his ideas of racial conciliation, and weekly soccer matches between prison sectors showed him that sports have the power to unify people.
He could have gotten out earlier, but refused to compromise
The president of South Africa, recognizing Mandela’s influence and worldwide fame, offered to let him out if he promised to stop supporting armed resistance, to which he responded “What freedom am I being offered while the organization of the people remains banned? Only free men can negotiate. A prisoner cannot enter into contracts.”
After elected, he fought just as hard for reconciliation as he did against Apartheid
In 1995, five years after being released from prison, and five hard years of putting more pressure on the government for reform, he was elected president in the first election open to all adults, regardless of race or gender. Many whites were worried about a potential backlash of radical socialist redistributions, but Mandela opted for a slower, surer growth, consistently searching for long-term solutions that would fix the actual institutions and systems of oppression.
Originally posted at Elite Daily.
About the author: After years of intense training Christian La Du has finally emerged as partially-fledged writer capable of consistently achieving mediocrity while working towards greatness. He also knows how to tie his shoes and does his own laundry, most of the time. When not hard at work he is trying, often failing, to play pick-up sports.