July 18, Nelson Mandela Day: A Rebel Turned Peacemaker

Honoring Nelson Mandela's legacy, UN pledges acts of kindness and goodwill

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Chicago – ‘A rebel, a prisoner for 27 years, a Nobel Peace prize winner, a Bharat Ratna winner and a world renowned statesman.’ These momentous titles aren’t enough to describe the legend of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. More than a year and a half after his death, Mandela still remains the face of anti apartheid and anti racism campaigns across the world.

Albeit Mandela is often compared with other great leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Junior, his approach widely differed as compared to these two saintly leaders. While Gandhi gave as much importance to the ‘manner’ in which freedom was to be achieved, for young Mandela, it was just about uprooting Apartheid, by any means. Although he professed Gandhian ways in the beginning to fight racism in his country, initial failures forced him to re-think his approach and turn towards armed protests. As he had stated at some point: “For me, nonviolence was not a moral principle but a strategy.”

Post his teen years, Mandela hardly spent any time with his family. An end to Apartheid was his sole aim and African National Congress was his new home. In a bid to go on the offensive against the British, in 1955, he went on to ask China for weapons to support his African National Congress’ struggle against Apartheid – a request which China refused. Once the British got to know of his guerrilla war plans, he remained on the most wanted list of the authorities till he was caught in 1956.

His 3 three hour long speech “I am prepared to die”, just before he was sentenced to life imprisonment for trying to initiate a guerrilla war, remains one of the greatest speeches in world’s history. The last paragraph of this historical speech remains written on South Africa’s constitutional court’s wall. He was eventually released after 27 years in prison, following an International campaign seeking his release.

As the world prepares itself to celebrate the 6th Mandela Day on 18th July, it is worth contemplating if the world needs his teachings today more than ever. Let’s take the case of Mandela’s own country, South Africa. In 1998, South Africa had to introduce a Black African quota system in the National cricket team. According to this, the team had to include at least four players of color each time they take the field. Although the rule was lifted in 2008, a similar quota rule was enforced in domestic cricket in 2013. Incidences of racial discrimination are still common in South Africa, over two decades after the country elected Nelson Mandela as its first ever black president. According to the country’s Human Rights Commission, Universities and schools witness blatant racism on a daily basis. Many Black activists are still fighting for the rights of blacks in South Africa, but the campaign seems to be losing steam ever since Mandela passed away in December 2013.

The problem isn’t confined to South Africa only. A recent spurt in the incidents of racial violence in the USA presents enough evidences that racial divide is alive and flowering in many parts of the world. Such was the recent state of affairs in the US that President Obama was forced to use the word ‘Nigger’ in a podcast interview – a word that is considered a taboo in the US and one that hasn’t been spoken by any US president for many decades.

With the world’s most powerful man, Barack Obama compelled to call his own country ‘racist’, Mandela’s teachings remain largely relevant even today. “When you’re dealing with something as deeply rooted as racism or bias in any society, you have to have vigilance, but you have to recognize that it’s going to take some time, and you just have to be steady. This isn’t going to be solved overnight. This is something that is deeply rooted in our society, it’s deeply rooted in our history…” – Obama on recent racist attacks in the US.

Among his other notable contributions to the world was the formation of ‘The Elders’. Launched as an International NGO, it had well known statesmen, human rights activists and peace activists as its members. Mandela wanted Elders to use their “close to 1,000 years of experience” to solve international conflicts. The group has been influential in mediating conflicts in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Arab, Ivory Coast, Cyprus and Sudan.

The Mandela Day calls for the people to realize the positive impact that they can have on their fellow beings. Several organizations organize events to celebrate the values that Mandela held so dear to him – democracy, respect and freedom. While the world is looking towards further development to solve the problems it is grappling with, may be the wiser thing would be to look back at the lives of great leaders such as Mandela and absorb their lessons.

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