On 18th July 1918 a President was born. Not any President but one who would suffer adversity, scorn and prejudice, spending a number of years in the wilderness before, like Moses, being called to free his fellow men from years of physical, mental and emotional slavery. This year marks the 100th birthday of inspirational freedom fighter and world renowned South African President, Nelson Mandela. To celebrate the birth of this great man, a centenary exhibition about his life was held at the Southbank Centre during the summer break.
Split into six themes, each chronicling his life, the start begins with Mandela’s birth in a rural village, where, along with other boys and girls, he went to school and belonged to the Madiba tribe – given the name Rolihlahla which means, ‘troublesome one.’ Mandela lived up to his name though the trouble he caused was perhaps for good reason, having to live in a society where apartheid (segregation on the grounds of race) ruled the day. From an early age Mandela is marked out by friends and those who knew him on the ground, as a promising leader and one able to work as part of a team in negotiating to improve the lives of those being unfairly oppressed and discriminated against purely on the grounds of race.
Training in the Wilderness
Trained as a lawyer and skilled as a boxer, Mandela had both the intellectual and physical qualities needed to make it to the top but it would not be an easy journey there. The trouble he and his friends would cause to those in authority would land him in prison where for 27 years he would learn, in solitude, for himself, it would be A Long Walk to Freedom.
A Long Walk to Freedom
Mandela’s release from prison on 11th February 1990 was momentous for it would change the course of time, heralding a new era for the people of South Africa. The iconic image of Mandela and his then wife, Winnie, pumping their fists in the air like those seen in the American Black Panther movement of the 1960’s, would reverberate around the world, where many, had for years, been protesting for his release.
History in the Making
Then on 10th May 1994, history was made as Mandela was elected as the first ever Black President of South Africa and leader of the ANC (African National Congress). Under his leadership, Mandela sought to end the apartheid regime which, for many decades, had disempowered and oppressed both him and his people.
An Enduring Legacy
Mandela’s death on 5th December 2013 at the age of 95, though leaving many sad, also left many with a good cause to celebrate. Not only did he leave behind a legacy which sought to bring the races together in South Africa and beyond but he also demonstrated, like Dr Martin Luther King Jnr before him, that those from African American descent could be good leaders. Such was the influence of both the South African President and the inspirational Civil Rights Leader, that they paved the way for America’s first ever President of African American descent in Barack Obama. There also appears to be some symbolism in the death of his original Queen, Winnie, earlier this year. Trailblazer, icon, writer, world leader and humble servant – Mandela, we salute you.
(c) Copyright 2018, Darell J Philip