I knew it would happen. I think a lot of us knew it was inevitable. We got news of his health deteriorating weeks ago. Yet, we still hoped that he would somehow pull through just as if we knew him. Part of us, however, knew that it was only a matter of time. And sure enough, his time same. Nelson Mandela, one of the world’s most respected leaders, former first President of South Africa who worked to destroy the system of apartheid has died.
I was sadden hearing about Mandela’s passing. I felt like a close friend died. It’s funny seeing as how I hardly knew of this man during my younger days. Although, watching South Africa electing it’s first African president elected democratically was still a poignant moment I remembered and was proud of.
I was too young and stupid to understand why everyone should know the name of Nelson Mandela. This is a man who fought for freedom and equality against an African nation built on the policies of racial segregation and oppression the world would come to know as apartheid, a system imposed by a national party of all-white Afrikaaners installed in 1948.
Apartheid was a form capitalism that heavily relied on the labor of native-born Black Africans who were forced to work under inhuman conditions in factories and mines earning little and treated worse while whites benefited heavily from it. It was a mirror image of the capitalist caste treatment of the United States. This is why so many blacks here in the States and around the world identify so much with the anti-apartheid movements in South Africa and why they see Mandela as a true leader and revolutionary.
Nelson Mandela was a prominent leader within the movement. He was the leader of the African National Congress (ANC), an organization founded to unite African people and spearhead the struggle for political, social and economic empowerment for all Africans.
Protests arose and uprisings were forming. As South Africans took the fight to the streets, whites countered their efforts with a spiked iron fist. The uprisings were brutal, bloody and brazen resulting in the lost of hundreds. The Sharpville Massacre in 1960 and the Soweto Uprising in 1976 were two important events where peaceful demonstrations were met with destructive opposition by members and supporters of a racist and heinous regime. But something else happened that would put a dent on the movement, the arrest of Nelson Mandela.
Mandela was convicted of treason spent roughly 27 years in prison. It was in Robbin Island where he and his comrades wrote his book Long Walk To Freedom, a collection of Mandela’s political ideals and human rights issues, particularly concerning the conditions in South Africa. During his imprisonment, he was recognized as an important figure in the anti-apartheid struggle.
South Africa felt pressure from the international community. The movement threatened divesting institutions and governments from the South African economy, individual boycotts, international sanctions against the nation, and to free Mandela and all South Africa’s political prisoners.
The apartheid regime partly caved in. They could not deny their racism any longer. It was in plain sight. And in 1990, Nelson Mandela was free.
In 1994, Mandela became the first democratically elected president in South Africa and worked to dismantle the system of apartheid one cog of reform at a time. Nevertheless, the specter of the system remained. Poverty and inequality still remains to this day. Violence against protesting miners continue. And the struggle for access for treatment for diseases like AIDS is still a reality.
After his term in office, Mandela continued to speak out on the injustices of the world. He spoke on behalf of the Palestinians where he said, “Palestinians are not struggling for a ‘state’ but for freedom, liberation and equality, just like we were struggling for freedom in South Africa.” He would deliver messages of freedom and justice all over the world becoming a global activist and respected leader up until the time of his death. He succumbed to his health issues at the age of 95.
While the world mourns the loss of one of its greatest leaders, let’s not forget that there are have been – and still are – those who opposed his ideals and the end of apartheid. Yet, most of those same people are now praising him as if they’ve always admired him. There are people who continue to condemn Mandela, referring to him as a terrorist, a communist, an enemy to the free world and a racist. They openly and without shame praise his passing. To those who support white supremacist capitalism, Mandela’s death was a just victory. And they will take great joy and letting you know what they “think”.
But Mandela was an enemy of an oppressive system constructed on the myth of white supremacy, a system that can not be removed easily. It didn’t go away when Mandela was elected. And it didn’t magically vanish when Obama was elected.
Let’s honor the memory of Nelson Mandela by working to change the world for the better by fighting against the phantoms of white racism. Let’s not be fueled by anger and rage when we engage in the struggle to deconstruct institutional racism. We must fight with love, strength and intelligence. We must live up to the best example possible. To do so is a true tribute to his legacy.