“Mandela, Mandela, when will they set you free?” This more than legitimate question was asked in a song by the band Maze in 1989. A year later, they would have the answer.
The most famous song about Mandela might have been “Asimbonanga” by Johnny Clegg. It was constantly played on radio stations in Western Europe. And the most beautiful anti-Apartheid piece probably was “South Africa” by Working Week.
On February 11th, 1990, Nelson Mandela was 71 years old, when he was released from prison. Not much later, he was celebrated by 100,000 people at Soccer City in Capetown. Billions around the world were just as relieved and happy.
For a long time, the spectators on site clapped, cheered and sang. It would take minutes until Mandela could commence with his speech. “Thank you that you chose to care”, he told them. They had, for 27 years.
Do people we consider to be normal, whatever the definition may be, comprehend what it means to be locked up for 27 years? No. In that situation, would most of us choose bitterness and fighting, rather than reconciliation with those who had stuck to institutionalized racism and Apartheid for decades? Yes. Probably.
Choosing the way of peace and reconciliation, in spite of it all, made Nelson Mandela a moral authority. His life was devoted to freedom. He spent almost a third of his long life in prison, only because he demanded what South Africa’s black majority, or everyone on the planet, should have had much earlier: the same rights as everyone else.
Mandela even rejected a conditional release from prison, 22 years after being locked up, and five years before he was finally freed unconditionally.
Freeing Nelson Mandela became possible in 1990, thanks to the struggle for freedom, which the racist South African regime had tried to crush time and time again. Countless protesters and other people seen as dangerous individuals by the government were murdered and jailed. The international pressure on South Africa, which included sanctions, was another important aspect.
There was more: Until the mid-1970-s, there were several white-ruled countries in southern Africa, such as Angola, Mozambique and Southern Rhodesia. But that changed when Portugal withdrew from its African colonies in 1975, and when Rhodesia became independent Zimbabwe. That new situation in the region increased the pressure, 15 years before Apartheid actually ended.
In addition, President Frederik Willem de Klerk, who later was Deputy President under Nelson Mandela, was the right man in the right position who took the right decision.
How many people of Nelson Mandela’s caliber have we read about or heard of in our lifetime? How many freedom fighters have actually fought for true freedom and achieved it? How many had the courage to reconcile with those who had made the fight for freedom necessary in the first place?
Nelson Mandela was not perfect. His life before and after those 27 years in jail partially seemed like a rollercoaster. This applies to his education, his professional life, to the struggle he fought, and even to his private life. Some views he had in the 1950-s, or even in the 1990-s, would not be agreeable to many of those who admire him anyway.
On the other hand, he was perfect indeed, in the sense that he was the perfect person to end Apartheid the right way, due to his personality, wisdom and life story.
There are many Mandela biographies, on the internet and printed. Why add one? Let’s end this with three Nelson Mandela quotes.
“Forget the past.”
“As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest.”
“I dream of an Africa which is in peace with itself.”
On July 18th, 2018, Mandela would have been 100 years old.