Former Republic of South African President Nelson Mandela turned 95 while being treated at a hospital near Pretoria. Mandela, who headed the African National Congress liberation movement turned political party, was a key figure in the decades-long struggle against white minority rule and for the establishment of a nonracial democratic political system.
Mandela has been in the hospital for several weeks suffering from a lung infection. His health has deteriorated over the last few years, and he has not made a public appearance since the World Soccer Cup held in South Africa during 2010.
Millions of people around the world paid tribute to the South African liberation movement leader leading up to and on his birthday July 18. The United Nations held a special session where former political prisoner and ANC official Andrew Mlangeni acknowledged Mandela’s contributions.
Mlangeni, 87, was convicted at the Rivonia Trial and sent to prison in 1964 with Mandela. He was released in 1990 around the same time as Mandela when the former apartheid regime under F. W. DeKlerk began negotiations for the transfer of political power in South Africa.
At the U.N. in New York, Mlangeni praised Mandela for opening the way for the end of racism inside the country: “We owe this freedom to the idol, Nelson Mandela.” (NY 1, July 18)
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said during the session, “At the dawn of the struggle the United Nations stood side by side with Nelson Mandela and all those who fought the inhuman system of apartheid. Let us all continue to be inspired by Nelson Mandela at this moment of reflection of his life and work. Let us pledge to live up to his example.” (worldbulletin.net, July 19)
At the Dr. Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in midtown Detroit, hundreds of people signed a birthday card to Mandela on July 18. The museum had supported the liberation movement leader even during the period when he was incarcerated in South Africa for more than 27 years.
South Africa celebrates leader’s legacy
In South Africa itself millions commemorated Mandela’s birthday on July 18. There has been a constant vigil outside the hospital where he has been treated for several weeks. There, people sang freedom songs and left gifts in his honor.
Since that time, news reports indicated that Mandela’s health had improved, although he remains in critical condition. One such report was from President Joseph Zuma, who had visited Mandela in the hospital.
Although Mandela and millions of ANC members and their allies sacrificed and organized to bring down the apartheid system of settler-colonialism, the struggle for revolutionary democracy and the total eradication of inequality remains unfinished. Today the South African working class and youth are still on the front lines in campaigns for labor rights, housing, land reform, full educational access and gender equality.
The ANC issued a statement for International Nelson Mandela Day July 18, which stated, “Comrade Nelson Mandela continues to be an inspiration and a beacon of hope to the African National Congress, the people of South Africa and the world. His life remains inextricably linked to the struggle of the people of South Africa for freedom, liberty and dignity.” (anc.org.za, July 17)
The statement goes on to say, “As a founding member and later president of the African National Congress Youth League, volunteer-in-chief of the Defiance Campaign and first soldier and later commander-in-chief of Umkhonto we Sizwe [the Spear of the Nation, the armed wing of the ANC during the struggle to end apartheid, President Nelson Mandela, together with his comrades, played a central role agitating for a society based on the ideals of the National Democratic Revolution of a united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous society. That he was impatient and, in his many capacities, led the call for ‘Freedom in this Lifetime’ must remain an inspiration and a rallying call for our people to never be complacent but daily be involved in the continuing struggle to create a better life for all humanity.”
A close ally of the ANC, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, which was founded in the heat of the struggle against apartheid in 1985, also issued a statement championing the contributions of Mandela to the working class inside the country. COSATU, the ANC and the South African Communist Party constituted the tripartite alliance that conducted the struggle against apartheid, leading to its fall in 1994.
The July 17 COSATU statement, which refers to Mandela by his clan name Madiba, read in part: “Comrade Madiba’s courage, determination and sacrifice have been without parallel in South Africa’s liberation struggle. Although he would be the first to demand that credit be given to the other giants of his generation — Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Chief Albert Luthuli, Joe Slovo, Moses Kotane, Yusuf Dadoo, Govan Mbeki, Dorothy Nyembe, Albertina Sisulu, Ray Alexandra, Ruth First, Chris Hani and many others — he remains the figure who was the face of the struggle against racist dictatorship, apartheid brutality and the exploitation of workers and the poor.
“He has stood like a beacon to others fighting for freedom in South Africa and all over the world. He never compromised his democratic principles. He endured brutal imprisonment longer than any others, yet remained a humble servant of his people, with never a thought of revenge or capitalizing on his reputation to accumulate wealth. His was a selfless struggle for a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and free South Africa.” (cosatu.org.za)
The South African Communist Party in its statement on July 18 said: “The SACP takes this opportunity to join millions of South Africans and the international community in wishing Madiba a happy 95th birthday. The SACP, the entire country and indeed the whole world is saddened that Madiba is marking his day whilst in hospital. We are however all encouraged by the news of a steady improvement in his health.” (sacp.org.za)