Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela also known as Madiba was born on born July 18, 1918, Mvezo, South Africa. He was a Black nationalist who saw an end to the apartheid system of racial segregation through the negotiation he had with the then South African Pres. F.W. de Klerk that led to the award of Nobel Prize for Peace to the duo in 1993 for their efforts. Mandela became the first Black South African president (1994-1999) in a peaceful transition to majority rule. The early life of Mandela was not too smooth. He was born into the family of Chief Henry Mandela of the Madiba clan of the Xhosa-speaking Tembu people. He studied law at the University of the Witwatersrand and became a lawyer after passing the qualification exam. He became the leader of the youth league of the African National Congress, a Black-liberation group he joined in 1944. In 1955 Mandela was involved in drafting the Freedom Charter, a document calling for nonracial social democracy in South Africa. Mandela, being an antiapartheid activism made him a frequent target of the authorities. For instance, he was banned severally from 1952 until 1956 when he was arrested and charges of treason was levied against him and more than 100 other people. In October 1963 the imprisoned Mandela and several other men were tried for sabotage, violent conspiracy and treason. According to Britannica, “Mandela’s speech from the dock, in which he admitted the truth of some of the charges made against him, was a classic defence of liberty and defiance of tyranny. (His speech garnered international attention and acclaim and was published later that year as I Am Prepared to Die.) On June 12, 1964, he was sentenced to life imprisonment, narrowly escaping the death penalty.” He was jailed for a total of 27 years and during these periods, Nelson still believes in his ideology aimed at emancipating the Black South Africans and making South Africa a free state for all. Mandela retained wide range of support during his incarceration, even among the international community who are antiapartheid. Due to instability in the political system between 1983 and 1988, Mandela was engaged by ministers of Pres. P.W. Botha’s government in exploratory negotiations.
Bottha’s successor, de Klerk met with Mandela and later released him on February 11, 1990. Mandela was chosen as the deputy president of the ANC after his release and later became president of the party in July 1991. He was elected as the South African president in 1994. After Mandela completed his tenure as South African president in 1999, he did not seek a second term as South African president and was succeeded by Mbeki in 1999. Nelson Mandela died on December 5, 2013 in Johannesburg. Even in death, Mandela, has continued to be remembered and celebrated for his resilient and efforts toward ending the apartheid regime. Mandela day is one of the most significant days that is celebrated and it is seen as an occasion for all to take action and inspire change. Mandela day also known as Nelson Mandela International Day is a day set aside by the United Nations on November 2009 as an international day to celebrate Nelson Mandela on his birthday which is on 18th July every year. This is in recognition of the contribution of Nelson Mandela in the areas of culture, peace and freedom. The resolution of the UN General Assembly (A/RES/64/13) acknowledges the values and dedication of Mandela to conflict resolution; race relations; promotion and protection of human rights; reconciliation; gender equality and the rights of children and other vulnerable groups; the fight against poverty; the promotion of social justice. This resolution recognizes Mandela’s influence on the struggle for democracy internationally and the promotion of a culture of peace globally. Mandela day was enthused by the charge and encouragement he gave in one of his speeches that the next generation should take on the burden of leadership in addressing the world’s social injustices when he said that “it is in your hands now”. Mandela day go beyond celebration of life but involve celebrating the good works of Madiba and to encourage and facilitate how we can change the world for the better in our own little way. In December 2015, the General Assembly decided to take the scope of Nelson Mandela International Day beyond the borders of its original purpose to include: promotion of humane conditions of imprisonment, raising awareness about prisoners being a continuous part of society, and to value the work of prison staff as a social service of particular importance.
Implication of Mandela day on existing Political culture in South Africa
There are many lessons that can be learnt about Mandela day that can help reshaping the existing political culture in South Africa. Some of these lessons include:
It is a call to service: The political elites and leaders have a lot to learn in the life and legacy of Mandela. Ones a leader is elected, he or she should know and learn that the power of leadership was given by the masses so as to work with the immediate communities and make a difference. Political elites must be guided by the selfless leadership style exhibited by Nelson Mandela. Nelson Mandela, as a human rights lawyer, served humanity for 67 years of his life time as an international peacemaker. In stormy times, Mandela stood for justice, equality and resisted oppression over humiliation.
It is a good guide on who to elect: There are some socioeconomic tasks that look seemingly impossible. The messages of Nelson Mandela which emphasized on justice for the voiceless has gone a long way to inspire all. Mandela day has given the next generation the hope and encouragement to elect good leaders who are masses inclined and ready to alleviate the suffering of the people. Celebration of Mandela day has opened the eyes of the electorates concerning who to elect into positions of leadership without prejudice to party affiliations.
It is a call for sober reflection: For the existing political culture in South Africa, there in a call for introspection and sober reflection. For instance, it is not compulsory for an elected president to spend two consecutive terms in office as demonstrated by Mandela if he/she can affect lives and bring about socioeconomic transformation within the first term in office. Some existing belief within the imagination of political leaders is to cling to power for two consecutive terms without prejudice to whether they perform well in office or not. Jacob Zuma for instance had to be forces to step down from the exalted position of President during his second term in office due to corruption allegations known as ‘state capture’.
In conclusion, as we celebrate Mandela international day on 18th July every year, everyone including the existing political culture should be guided that the ability and the responsibility to change the world for the better starts from us. We all need to introspect and take action where necessary to inspire change. The existing political culture should be tilted towards service to humanity as demonstrated by Mandela who devoted 67 years of his entire life in service of humanity.
Dr. Adebimpe Ofusori is a researcher at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. She writes in her personal capacity.