Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, former revolutionary, politician, philanthropist, and president of South Africa, passed away on Thursday, 5 December 2013. Now revered as “the father of his nation,” Mandela did not always command such respect.
Mandela was born to the Thembu royal family. He attended the Fort Hare University and the University of Witwatersrand, where he studied law. He became involved in anti-colonial politics while living in Johannesburg and was a founding member of the Youth League of the African National Congress (ANC). After the South African National Party achieved power in 1948, Mandela was active against their agenda. He worked as an attorney and was arrested “repeatedly” for seditious activities. He was initially committed to non-violent protest but later “co-founded a militant group known as Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) in 1961 in association with the South African Communist Party, leading a sabotage campaign against the apartheid government.” He was arrested in 1962 and convicted of “conspiracy to overthrow the government; he received a sentence of life imprisonment. He was in prison for 27 years before he was released in 1990.
Never one to sit back and watch things happen, Mandela published his autobiography and then opened negotiations F. W. de Klerk, President of South Africa, “to abolish apartheid and establish multiracial elections. Mandela ran for office on the ANC ticket and became South Africa’s first black president. He “formed a Government of National Unity in an attempt to defuse racial tension. He also promulgated a new constitution and created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate past human rights abuses. Continuing the former government’s liberal economic policy, his administration introduced measures to encourage land reform, combat poverty, and expand healthcare services. Internationally, he acted as mediator between Libya and the United Kingdom in the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing trial, and oversaw military intervention in Lesotho.”
Mandela was a politician but chose to serve only one term as president of South Africa; he was succeeded by his deputy, Thabo Mbeki. He then became “an elder statesman” and worked through the Nelson Mandela Foundation to combat poverty and HIV/AIDS.
Nelson Mandela was “a controversial figure” for much of his life and his critics called him as being a Marxist terrorist. by critics. The United States had him listed as a terrorist until he was 90 years old. His activism brought international acclaim, and he received more than 250 honors. These honors included the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize, the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Soviet Order of Lenin and the Bharat Ratna. He has the deep respect of many of the South African people who refer to him by his Xhosa clan name, Madiba, or as Tata (“Father”).
Even though Nelson Mandela was deeply respected and nearly worshipped for his efforts in ending white rule, he also had his critics. It appears that the “sanctified image” Mandela was more extreme overseas than locally.
“Indeed, the picture that the world had of Mr. Mandela was as an almost saintly figure, the faultless `father of the nation.’ Images of the heartfelt prayer gatherings and candlelight vigils in recent months as South Africans came to terms with his death have reinforced that view.
“But Mr. Mandela was a politician, among the most transformative of his era, but still a politician. As such, he went through the usual ups and downs that characterize any political career.
“`Nelson Mandela was not a saint. We would dishonor his memory if we treated him as if he was one,’ Pierre de Vos, a law professor, wrote on Friday in The Daily Maverick, an online magazine in South Africa, arguing that Mr. Mandela’s genius lay in his willingness to bend and compromise. `Like all truly exceptional human beings, he was a person of flesh and blood, with his own idiosyncrasies, his own blind spots and weaknesses.’”
Glenn Beck believes we should reflect on Mandela’s principles rather than his politics. Even though he was once a communist revolutionary, he was a peaceful hero in fighting for civil rights. He had many communist revolutionaries and dictators among his friends. “From Fidel Castro to Muammar Gaddafi to his own wife Winnie, the people Mandela surrounded himself with did not demonstrate the same sense of compassion and peace that he seemed to espouse. Mandela became a political icon, and it was that status that muddied the waters of who he actually was.
“`Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future. Show me your friends, and I can tell your character. If you’re surrounded by dirt bags, you are most likely a dirt bag. Like minds attract each other…. Nelson Mandela had been so politicized… It’s like this President. You don’t know what’s true or not. You have no idea who the man really is because for political purposes they will make anybody into anything… So for many reasons I didn’t know who Nelson Mandela was.’”
Then Glenn went to South Africa in the summer of 2011 and met Mandela as a person and not a political figure. He spent “two days with a remarkable man – one of the richest men in the world and the biggest philanthropist in South Africa…. I am not sure how many people know the role he played in the peace in South Africa.”
Glenn said that Mandela went into prison with a choice. He could become “an angry, communist revolutionary, or still live by his communist principle but be a man of peace. I haven’t seen communists that are peaceful… except for Nelson Mandela.
“Nelson Mandela was a man who when he was released could have torn that country apart. With just a raised fist he could have raced a nation into bloodshed…. Nelson Mandela had a reason to be angry. Nelson Mandela had a reason to tear a country apart. Nelson Mandela had the philosophy of a revolutionary. But Nelson Mandela, in the end, got down on his bended knees in front of the opposition leader in private – literally on his knees – and said, `Please, please no bloodshed. Please, please for the sake of peace, let’s come together and find a way.’”
Mandela obviously earned his Nobel Peace Prize. He was “in a very powerful position” but chose the “peaceful path.” “I came away from South Africa with a great deal of respect for Nelson Mandela – again, not for his policies but for his principles…. Principles are something we can agree on. I have a great deal of respect for somebody who has reason to choose another path and doesn’t…."
Mandela left a lot of quotes, and Glenn’s favorite quote came from Mandela’s time in prison. Each night after doing hard labor all day long, Mandela would write, and his words are on display at the Apartheid Museum. “People tend to measure themselves by external accomplishments, but jail allows a person to focus on internal ones; such as honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, generosity and an absence of variety. You learn to look into yourself.”
Glenn suggests that forget Mandela’s politics and remember the way that Mandela used love to conquer his enemies when he could have just as easily used hatred to divide his nation and cause great bloodshed. This is a wonderful lesson that we could all put into practice in our daily lives. Mandela was one man who made a huge difference in his nation. May we all follow his example and seek peace while standing firm on good principles.