????NELSON MANDELA guided South Africa from the shackles of apartheid to multi-racial democracy, as an icon of peace and reconciliation who came to embody the struggle for justice around the world.
????Imprisoned for nearly three decades for his fight against white minority rule, Mandela emerged determined to use his prestige and charisma to bring down apartheid while avoiding a civil war.
????“The time for the healing of the wounds has come. The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come,” Mandela said in his acceptance speech on becoming South Africa’s first black president in 1994.
????In 1993, Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, an honor he shared with F.W. de Klerk, the white Afrikaner leader who freed him from prison three years earlier and negotiated the end of apartheid.
????Mandela went on to play a prominent role on the world stage as an advocate of human dignity in the face of challenges ranging from political repression to AIDS.
????He formally left public life in June 2004 before his 86th birthday, telling his adoring countrymen: “Don’t call me. I’ll call you.” But he remained one of the world’s most revered public figures, combining celebrity sparkle with an unwavering message of freedom, respect and human rights.
????Whether defending himself at his own treason trial in 1963 or addressing world leaders years later as a greying elder statesman, he radiated an image of moral rectitude expressed in measured tones, often leavened by a mischievous humor.
????Mandela’s years behind bars made him the world’s most celebrated political prisoner and a leader of mythic stature for millions of black South Africans and other oppressed people far beyond his country’s borders.
????Charged with capital offenses in the 1963 Rivonia Trial, his statement from the dock was his political testimony.
????“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination.”
????Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born July 18, 1918, and chose to devote his life to the fight against white domination. He studied at Fort Hare University, but left in 1940 short of completing his studies and became involved with the African National Congress (ANC), founding its Youth League in 1944 with Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu.
????Mandela worked as a law clerk then became a lawyer who ran one of the few practices that served blacks.
????Mandela was among the first to advocate armed resistance to apartheid, going underground in 1961 to form the ANC’s armed wing, Umkhonto weSizwe, or “Spear of the Nation” in Zulu.
????Branded a terrorist by his enemies, Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964. He was incarcerated on Robben Island, a penal colony off Cape Town.
????He was released Feb. 11, 1990. “As I finally walked through those gates ... I felt even at the age of 71 that my life was beginning anew,” Mandela wrote of that day.
????Mandela prevented a racial explosion after the murder of popular Communist Party leader Chris Hani by a white assassin in 1993, appealing for calm in a national television address. That same year, he and de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
????Talks between the ANC and the government began in 1991, leading to South Africa’s first all-race elections April 27, 1994.
????Mandela campaigned across the country, enthralling adoring crowds of blacks and wooing whites with assurances that there was a place for them in the new South Africa.
????The election result was never in doubt and his inauguration in Pretoria on May 10, 1994, was a celebration of a peoples’ freedom.
????Mandela took tea with his former jailers and won over many whites when he donned the jersey of South Africa’s national rugby team — once a symbol of white supremacy — at the final of the World Cup in 1995 at Johannesburg’s Ellis Park stadium.
????In 1999, Mandela, often criticized for having a woolly grasp of economics, handed over to younger leaders — a voluntary departure from power cited as an example to long-ruling African leaders.
????A restful retirement was not in the cards as Mandela shifted his energies to fighting South Africa’s AIDS crisis.
????The stress of his long struggle contributed to the break-up of his marriage to equally fierce anti-apartheid campaigner Winnie.
????The country shared the pain of their divorce in 1996 before watching him marry Graca Machel, widow of Mozambican President Samora Machel. on his 80th birthday in 1998. People lauded his humanity, kindness, attention and dignity.
????Unable to shake the habits of prison, Mandela rose daily between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. to exercise and read. He drank little and was a fervent anti-smoker.
????An amateur boxer in his younger days, Mandela often said the discipline and tactics drawn from training helped him endure prison and the political battles after his release.
????Mandela was treated in the 1980s for tuberculosis and later required an operation to repair damage to his eyes as well as treatment for prostate cancer in 2001. His spirit, however, remained strong. (SD-Agencies)