Today, the world has been silenced, by the death of Nelson Mandela.

Nobel peace prize winner, and South Africa’s first black president, Mandela was an iconic, unifying figure around the world. Having been struck by lung infections for the past two years, Mandela died at his home, surrounded by friends and family, at the age of 95.

South African president, Jacob Zuma, announced Mandela’s death on national television; stating “our nation has lost its greatest son”. Zuma thanked the Mandela family for sacrificing so much “so that our people could be free”.

…“a great light has gone out”…

The announcement has been followed by an outpouring of thanks and remembrance for Mandela’s life. Obama released a statement saying that Mandela “achieved more than any man could expect. I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example Mandela set”. David Cameron also tweeted last night that “a great light has gone out”; whilst the Union Jack and South African flag are currently flying at half-mast over downing street this morning. Denis Goldberg, a friend and fellow anti-apartheid fighter, said “I am saddened his life has come to an end. But it hasn’t come to an end, he lives in our constitution, our society, he lives in the comradeship that he always talked about.”

Symbolic gestures have been made too. FIFA have announced that at all international matches today, flags shall be flown at half-mast whilst a minutes silence shall be honoured in his memory. The Eiffel Tower has also been brightly lit up in the colours of the South African flag.

…named Rolihlahla – meaning troublemaker…

Mandela was born on July 18th 1918, named Rolihlahla – meaning troublemaker. He studied law at Fort Hare University where he begun political activism. Joining the African Nation Congress in 1944, he quickly became the president of the ANC youth league; advocating peaceful resistance to the apartheid policies of the government.

But by 1961, as apartheid oppression increased, Mandela changed to a campaign of sabotage forming the Spear of the Nation military wing. He was arrested in 1962 and sentenced for five years for illegally leaving the country to incite international support for the anti-apartheid movement. During that sentence, he was further tried with nine others for sabotage during the Rivonia trials. They all faced life imprisonment. Mandela served his time at Robben Island prison.

…his detention gained growing international attention…

As Mandela served his sentence, action against the apartheid movement increased and his detention gained growing international attention. The 1988 Free Mandela concert attracted 600 million viewers. Mandela was finally released in 1990 following the withdrawal of the ANC ban.

Mandela quickly became a central political negotiator, pushing for the first multiracial South African elections. For this, him and the current South African president, F.W de Klerk won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. The following year saw the South Africa’s first multiracial election with Mandela winning; becoming the first black president. Mandela served a five year term, and once finishing office, focused on charitable efforts and tackling South Africa’s HIV problem. He withdrew from public life in 2004, following a bought of ill health.

…whether South Africa shall continue to strive towards racial equality without his influence…

There is no doubting Mandela’s achievements as a great force for peace and equality. He has inspired generations of activists and raised millions for charitable causes. But it seems that South Africa has now lost its beacon of hope. The underlying question surrounding Mandela’s death is whether South Africa shall continue to strive towards racial equality without his influence.

Despite reassurances by political leaders that progress shall continue, many South Africans remain sceptical. The country has increasingly struggled with social and political discontent. Continued labour unrest, such as the miner’s strikes, have been met with violent and deadly repression by the police forces. Despite being Africa’s largest economy, it is arguably the most unequal; and issues such as poverty, crime and corruption still grip the country. People fear that without Mandela’s example, current politicians will pursue increasingly self-interested policies; making the rich stronger, leaving a large, impoverished population behind. Zuma, the current president, has previously been investigated for corruption charges, following the $27 million restoration of his home.

…The sun will rise tomorrow, and the next day, and the next…it may not be as bright as yesterday, but it will shine…

Archbishop of Cape Town, Desmond Tutu, friend and fellow freedom fighter of Mandela’s, insists that this is not the case. “To suggest that South Africa might go up in flames is to discredit South Africa and Mandela’s legacy. The sun will rise tomorrow, and the next day, and the next…it may not be as bright as yesterday, but it will shine”.

Ultimately, the future of South Africa at this point is all speculative and the strength of Mandela’s legacy is yet to be seen. But one can’t help but wonder if someone can ever be as unifying as death, as they were in their life?

About The Author

I'm currently a history undergraduate at UCL and have aspirations to become a war and current affairs journalist.

One Response

  1. Judy

    Really liked your article. Many people are waiting for what will happen next!
    Sadly history has a way of repeating itself. Maybe there will be a slowing down of the inevitable decline – the last of Mandela’s influence, but from what we are hearing/ reading so much is happening already :0(

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