The glory of Saturn.
(Materials provided by ESA, NASA, ASI)
Obit of the Day: Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela was born the son of a Thembu chieftain and given the name Rolihlahla, which he proudly told people translated as “troublemaker.” And for many whites in South Africa that is all he was for most of his adult life.
A teacher Anglicized his name to Nelson when he was seven, without imagining that 70 years later 80,000 white Afrikaaners would chant that name as he stepped on the field wearing the colors of the South Africa Springboks, the country’s rugby team which had long symbolized white oppression.
Mr. Mandela, known affectionately as “the father of the nation” in South Africa, died on December 5, 2013 at the age of 95. The iconic activist, political prisoner, and president did not end apartheid - South Africa’s governing policy separating blacks and whites - but he may have done something greater: leading not from bitterness or revenge after decades of oppression and imprisonment. Mr. Mandela wanted to move forward, not look backwards.
Mr. Mandela’s political activism dated back to 1940 when he was nearly suspended for leading a student protest while in college. A few years later, after opening the first black law partnership in South Africa with Mr. Oliver Tambo, the two men helped organize the African National Congress Youth League - a more vocal and active sect of the ANC, which Mr. Mandela and his friends thought too conservative.
Becoming more militant as they saw less and less hope for a non-violent end to apartheid, Mandela and his friends created an group to “hit back by all means within our power in defence of our people, our future and our freedom.” It was named “Spear of the Nation” and would be designated as a terrorist organization. (Although Mr. Mandela was in prison for much of the group’s existence, 1960-1980, Spear of the Nation was responsible for the death of 63 people and nearly 500 injuries.)
Finally in 1963, the South African government seemed to finally have found a way to silence Mr. Mandela, charging him and seven others with treason. They could not have been more wrong. After a four-hour opening statement at the now-famous “Rivonia trial,” Mr. Mandela swayed international opinion in his favor, even earning a near-unanimous vote o support from the United Nations General Assembly. The court ignored the outside influences and sentenced Mr. Mandela to life in prison. He and six others were sent to Robben Island, South Africa’s Alcatraz.
And there the legend grew. During the 27 years that Mr. Mandela spent on Robben Island he became the most famous political prisoner in the world. For decades, men and women around the globe would protest for his release, carrying signs and chanting “Free Nelson Mandela,” most having never seen him. (Mr. Mandela would later joke that he was sure many protestors just thought his first name was “Free.”)
During his two-and-a-half decades in prison, Mr. Mandela worked to build relationships and not just with the outside world. He taught himself Afrikaans in order to converse freely with his guards, many of whom gained respect for the once-radical leader. But prison was no joy and Mr. Mandela’s popularity also led to harsher treatment, which included the government’s refusal to let him attend the funerals of his mother and, later, his son.
February 11, 1990 Nelson Mandela was released from prison. And the focus was on the aged activist. Now 71 years old, the public had not seen nor heard from him since he was 44. They wondered what prison had made him.
And it was nothing anyone could have expected. Mr. Mandela did not dwell on the past. He did not harbor hatred or ill-will, but began speaking of reconciliation and collaboration between whites and blacks.
Negotiations to fully end apartheid and give black South Africans a role in the government were led by Mr. Mandela and then-president F.W. DeKlerk. Their work earned them the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.
A year later Mr. Mandela was voted into office as the first black president of South Africa - fulfilling a prediction he had made at an ANC dinner in 1952. He would serve one five-year term, 1994-1999, and then leave office. (Unfortunately for the ANC and the country, Mr. Mandela and his successor, Thabo Mbeki, had a falling out, especially over the country’s AIDS epidemic, which Mr. Mbeki did not take seriously.)
Mr. Mandela remained a living symbol of South Africa for the remainder of his days and working to burnish his country’s reputation internationally. He played a significant role in bringing the World Cup to his homeland in 2010.
Nelson Mandela died on December 5, 2013 at the age of 95.
(Image is copyright Greg Bartley/Camera Press, via Redux and NY Times)
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