A new dawn. A new beginning. Who will take the mantle now. Who will fill those colossal shoes left behind by the man who started life as a shepherd but went on to lead a nation from oppression and racial segregation to democracy and unity.
Rolihlahla Mandela was born in Mveso, a village in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa on the 18th July 1918. It wasn't until his first day of school that he was given the name 'Nelson' by his teacher, as was the custom to give all school children 'Christian' names. His father was Nkosi Mphakanyiswa Gadla Mandela, principal counsellor to the Acting King of the Thembu people, and when he died, Mandela, aged nine, was adopted by the Thembu Royal family and moved to ‘The Great Place’ in Mqhekezweni, the Thembu capital. It was at the Royal Court tribal meetings that he learnt the value of democratic leadership. 'There may have been a hierarchy of importance among speakers, but everyone was heard: chief and subject, warrior and medicine man, shopkeeper & farmer,..'['The Long walk to Freedom' - Nelson Mandela, 1995].
This experience undoubtedly helped forge the man and leader that Mandela would become later in life. His royal standing also gave him educational opportunities unheard of for rural black South Africans at that time, and in 1940 he became one of only 50 black South Africans enrolled at Fort Hare University. However in his 2nd year there he lived up to his name Rolihlahha – ‘troublemaker’ in Xhosa - and was expelled for his involvement in a rebellion over poor quality food. He completed his BA at South Africa University, Johannesburg, where he met the future ANC leader Walter Sisulu, and his political journey began, launching the ANC youth League whilst studying law at Witherstand University.
Four years later he founded South Africa's first black partnership law firm with Oliver Tambo. They were successful and in demand but their failure to stem the tide of forced racial segregation by the governing National Party led to Mandela and the ANC creating 'The Freedom Charter' and it's campaign of 'passive resistance'. But in 1956 in a bid to stop any further action, the government had Mandela arrested for high treason, with the resulting court case lasting five years and Mandela eventually being acquitted.
In 1960 the shooting of 69 demonstrators by police in Sharpsville forced the ANC to abandon it's campaign of peaceful protest and Mandela became commander-in-chief of the ANC's military wing - Umkhonto we Sizwe - ‘Spear of the nation’. He travelled abroad to receive military training and to gain international support for the ANC, but was arrested on his return and in 1964 was sentenced to life imprisonment making his infamous speech from the docks on the last day of the trial.
'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' [The Washington Post, December 6th 2013]
He was sent to Robben Island maximum security prison where he served 20 years of his sentence. However despite the brutal conditions of hard labour, beatings and systematic physical and mental torture Mandela didn’t compromise his political values, teaching himself Afrikaans during his time in prison so he could negotiate with and gain the trust of his prison guards. He also became highly respected and a leader amongst his fellow inmates.' Life was hard and the conditions were tough but what made an enormous difference was that Mandela was there.... From day one, Mandela maintained a kind of dignity that we began to model ourselves on' recalls Marc Maharaj, a member of the ANC who was imprisoned alongside Mandela. At the same time outside of the prison walls, he became an International beacon of the resistance to apartheid and in 1990 the South African government responded to International pressure and Mandela was released.
Possibly his most awe inspiring quality was that when released, after 27 years in prison he held no bitterness towards his captors. I can think of only one man I have met who has inspired me to the same degree. A Tibetan monk I met in Dharamshala, India 12 years ago. He told me stories of his life as a political prisoner, being starved and forced to survive eating shoe leather and the cotton thread from his clothes, however he sat before me each day recounting his experiences with no bitterness at all and still smiling and happy with life.
In 1994 Mandela became South Africa's first black president serving for five years before stepping down. He continued to work with the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund he set up and later established the Nelson Mandela Foundation and The Mandela Rhodes Foundation, all of which still continue today. He died on 5th December 2013 in Johannesberg, aged 95 and his state funeral was held on 15th December 2013 in Qunu, the small village where he grew up.
With widespread concerns over the unpopularity and scandals surrounding the President and ANC Leader, Jacob Zuma there's no time for mourning. So who will take the mantle now and who will fill those boots and lead with the same sort of courage, dignity and humility that Mandela did. Only time will tell.....