-by Emily Gliklich-“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” — Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela, a prisoner and pacifist turned president, died at age 95 on December 5, 2013. True to his own words, Nelson Mandela persevered through nearly three decades in prison to help lift the yoke of apartheid off of South Africa. Born in Mvezo, South Africa in 1918, Mandela graduated from preparatory school and college before attending law school at Witwatersrand University. At law school he met others who were opposed to apartheid and joined the African National Congress, where he quickly rose to become one of the leaders.
Nelson Mandela initially pushed for a non-violent solution to the apartheid. Frustrated by the lack of progress through non-violent demonstrations, Mandela was arrested by the South African government while plotting with others to destroy empty buildings. Mandela spent 27 years in prison because he would not give up his idea that everyone in South Africa should have equal rights. During one of his frequent trials while imprisoned, Nelson Mandela said: “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
He became not only the leader but also the symbol of the movement to rid South Africa of apartheid. The time Mandela spent captive attracted international attention to the ongoing apartheid in South Africa and the anti-apartheid movement trying to end it. Finally, Mandela was freed as a result of the pressure of international opinion, which had turned dramatically against the South African government in 1990. Apartheid was abolished in 1991, and Nelson Mandela was elected the first black president of South Africa in 1994, the year of the first election in which citizens of all races could vote. Throughout the fight for equality, Mandela was one of the main anti-apartheid leaders who worked tirelessly to prevent civil war.
Even though Nelson Mandela is no longer with us, the impact he made on the world will stay with us forever. As President Obama noted in Mandela’s eulogy last week, “Nothing he [Mandela] did was inevitable.” It takes brave and persistent people like Mandela to change the course of history, and because of Mandela, we no longer hear about the cruelty of apartheid and our global society is one step closer to equality, a goal that we all share here at Winsor.