Amandla is a Xhosa and Zulu word that means ‘power’. Many of us who live outside of African nations first heard the word used as a rallying cry during the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. It was also during that time, many of us who were coming of age became aware of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela — who, at age 95, after spending much of his life being the greatest embodiment of peace and non-violent resistance.
In recent months we’ve heard numerous reports about Mr. Mandela’s health and how he battled bravely against his illnesses. His strength and ability to hold on even in bleak and dire circumstances should not have come as a surprise to anyone who recalls the dignified fighting spirit of the man who was punished for challenging his country’s system of oppression towards the majority black population and for battling racial apartheid that lasted for decades after Europeans staked claim to the nation and its resources. A lawyer, Mandela used his knowledge of the law and the power of his moral convictions to organise his people and supporters to stand against the racist regime’s discriminatory policies.
After being convicted of treason against the white South African government for being a ‘terrorist’, Madiba — his clan name, named after an eighteenth century Thembu tribe chief — spent nearly three decades in prison.
If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.
~ Nelson Mandela
Worldwide protests against the dominant regime and an international campaign lobbied for his release from prison that was finally granted in 1990. Many of us still remember the day of his release as though it were yesterday; his peacefully triumphant walk away from bondage, greatness etched in his face, determination in his stride and a look that showed that he knew there was much work to do. It was clear that imprisonment didn’t deter him; upon his release he made history when he led negotiations with then President F.W. de Klerk to abolish apartheid and establish multi-racial elections in 1994, in which he led the African National Congress (ANC) to success. He was elected President and formed a Government of National Unity, becoming South Africa’s first black president in 1994.
There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires. ~ Nelson Mandela
It began the beginning of yet another challenging journey in a life already marked with history-making moments. Born in 1918 into a Thembu royal family, the anti-apartheid revolutionary spent his life doing the work he continued as president: focusing on working with multiracial groups of people to break down the destructive legacy of apartheid by addressing racism, poverty and deeply-ingrained institutionalised inequality.
His mission is best summed up in his own words:
“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. 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.”
Many of us fear that there will never be another like him. His accomplishments, which earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, are unmatched by any political leader since. What he gave to Africa — what Madiba gave and continues to give to the world — should always be appreciated and it should never be forgotten. While all leaders may give some towards making life better for their people, some give all towards making the world a better place. When President Obama said during his June 30th speech at Capetown University that “Mandela’s spirit could never be imprisoned,” it was an understatement. His spirit will live on forever.