100 years ago today, one of the greatest freedom fighters in the history of the world was born. His name was Nelson Mandela. Five years after his death, there are world leaders whose policies and edicts he spent his entire life fighting against speaking glowingly of him and the things that he did for the world. If you weren’t a careful observer you may have thought Nelson Mandela was some sort of apologist.
However, according to public record, Nelson Mandela was far from that. He was a man of action if there ever was one. Oftentimes, the term freedom fighter is used as a blanket moniker to describe anyone who is adversarial toward in an oppressive government in words or deeds. But with Nelson Mandela, we find a man who put the fight in freedom fighter. Literally.
In a time of harsh brutality and virtual genocidal campaigns undertaken by South African Police charged with patrolling black townships, it’s hard to place morals and restraint on a revolutionary movement when the enemy has no such restraints and, by the way, wishes death and subjugation upon you simply for the color of one’s skin.
Though he’s long gone, individuals like to cling to the latter-day version of Mandela. The kindly, smiling, wise and loving Nelson Mandela was not the same individual embarked upon a war of liberation for his people.
Today, as the world reels from sectarian violence, attempted coup-de-tats and racial animus, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela would have celebrated his 98th birthday. It is at such times that we truly begin to realize what the world is missing. For most of us, what’s missing is perspective.
Growing from a revolutionary and freedom fighter to an elder statesman is an arc of personal growth the likes of which very few people in modern history have accomplished. Depending upon the motivations of parties involved, both the fiery young revolutionary version or the wise elder statesman version of Mandela are paraded as if they are mutually exclusive.
But the wise statesman and humanitarian would never have come to be without the fiery young revolutionary who was willing to give his life for the struggle.
The following’s an excerpt from the 2016 TSL article, Nelson Mandela: From Terrorist, Prisoner, And Activist To President.
For most of us, what’s missing is perspective. A look back on the varying philosophies of Nelson Mandela provides tons of it. During his early years, Mandela, an attorney, was an advocate of using nonviolent tactics to shame the apartheid government of South Africa into loosening its grip upon the lives and hopes of Black South Africans. However, after repeatedly watching his friends and allies in the African National Congress and South African Indian Congress be repeatedly brutalized by South African police, Mandela began to waver on his dedication to such tactics.
There are currently 6 billion people living on Earth today. Most go about their daily dealings with little concern for others as they face the task of acquiring food, clothing, and shelter. The world seems too cold to fathom. Too crazy to embrace. Few choose to inspire.
By 1953, he’d come to realize that a different approach was needed.
He verbally supported a groundswell of young Black South Africans who wished to take up arms from 1953 onward but did not actively move to militarize the ANC until after the Sharpeville massacre of 1960, in which police killed 69 protesters. This was against the wishes of then ANC president Albert Luthuli, who Mandela said was out of touch with reality.
Umkhonto we Sizwe, or Spear of the Nation, was founded in 1961 and would become the African National Congress’ paramilitary wing. Its first attack was carried out later that year. Mandela himself would be trained in weaponry and guerrilla tactics in Ethiopia and Algeria in 1962.
In 1964, he and several other members of the ANC were tried and sentenced to life in prison on charges of sabotage and treason. He was offered freedom in exchange for renouncing violence on more than one occasion. He refused each time. As he sat in prison, mostly in solitary confinement, the ANC carried out hundreds of bomb attacks against the apartheid regime.
In 1985, 21 years after he was sent to prison, Mandela began sending letters to the apartheid government heads to begin peace talks in which he was able to persuade the government to end apartheid. Spear of the Nation ceased violent acts in 1990 as talks continued.
The late Nelson Mandela is being celebrated and remembered by billions across the world, remembered as a champion of underdogs and the oppressed. But when it came to sports, Mandela was an avid supporter and fan. While in college as a young man, he was an amateur boxer who idolized the late heavyweight great Joe Louis.
Mandela was released the same year by F.W. de Klerk and would be voted in as president of South Africa in four years. Unlike Martin Luther King, Jr and Mahatma Gandhi, both of whom outright rejected violence as a means to gain freedom for their respective constituencies, Mandela supported its use against a brutal, philosophically unwavering regime of white supremacy.
He went from nonviolent protester to insurgency leader, from prisoner of the state to president of South Africa. Today, as freedom fighters are lambasted as terrorist by the mainstream, and American made bombs go off all over the world, millions fight for their human rights as protests strangle traffic in America’s largest metropolises, and as we silently cringe at the thought of what pain and misery a prolonged bloody anti-law enforcement campaign would cause to the land we love, Nelson Mandela’s life – his entire life – is as glaring an example for proponents of peace as it is for those who would readily take the opposite approach.
People have dignity, people have inherent human rights and people have pride. Denying a peoples’ access to any of those for an extended period of time is a recipe for eventual disaster. Mandela would serve as president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999 after which time he spent the majority of his time as a philanthropist and continually spoke against human rights abuses across the globe. He died December 5, 2013, as one of the most beloved men in the world.