The term ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ has been uttered by many great people throughout history and most recently by Barack Obama in 2008. In a public speech when he was still a Senator - Obama said, “For most of this country’s history we in the African-American community have been at the receiving end of man’s inhumanity to man. All of us understand intimately the insidious role that race still sometimes plays – on the job, in the schools, in out health care system and in our criminal justice system”
Man’s inhumanity to man is appalling. Single words exist that define the atrocities that have been committed - and that continue to be committed. Holocaust, Slavery and Genocide are such examples and to me they conjure up immediate, profound and terrible images of the capacity of our cruelty.
The word apartheid is another.
The term apartheid is Afrikaans and it stems from a Dutch word that means to separate or segregate. Its literal meaning is ‘apart-hood’ and the word became a formal policy in South Africa that was enacted between 1948 and 1994. People were literally kept apart based solely on the colour of their skin. People with black skin - who were the majority of the part of Africa in which they lived - were treated in a less-than-human fashion. They were subject to cruelty and injustices that few of us can conceive - and they were denied liberties that most of us take for granted.
The policy of apartheid forced massive resettlements in South Africa. The majority black population were involuntarily obligated to move where the white minority population demanded them. South Africans with black skin were denied the right to vote, they were excluded from the white education system and the land upon which they had lived for generations was taken from them. The whole country was segregated in a most obscene way. Beaches, parks, the transport system and even public toilets were segregated - and severe and unjust penalties were brutally imposed for any infractions. Black South Africans lived in a constant state of fear for more than fourty six years.
Fourty six years.
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born in 1918. His forename ‘Rolihlahla’ translates to ‘troublemaker’ in the Xhosa language which was apt - as he was a revolutionary and political activist for his entire adult life. He fought for justice for people with black skin as a member and then leader of the African National Congress. Mandela fought with words – not violence. He was arrested – not for the first time - in 1962 and with a number of other members of the ANC he was charged with conspiracy to overthrow the government. At his trial in 1964 Mandela used the public attention to deliver a four hour-long speech to declare the plight of South Africans with black skin and to demand change. It is known as the “I am prepared to die” speech – and it is considered to be one of the greatest orations ever given.
In his speech and referring to the liberty and equality that he wanted for South Africans with black skin Mandela said, “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. That is an ideal I hope to live for and to achieve but if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die”.
On the 2nd June 1964 Mandela was found guilty by the white presiding judge and he was sentenced to death. This was later commuted to life imprisonment. He served twenty-seven years in jail.
Mandela was released from incarceration in February 1990 in an act of clemency by the then President of South Africa - F W de Clerk. Thus began the slow process of dismantlement of the apartheid system. A general election was held in April 1994 where for the first time blacks were allowed to vote. They went to the polls in massive numbers and the African National Congress won in a landslide victory. Mandela was elected to the Presidency of South Africa. He served but a single term in government but under his Presidency Mandela completely removed the apartheid minority rule to its current multicultural democracy.
Whilst this was not a completely bloodless action there was no war or massive acts of conflict or violence in the transition.
Mandela will be remembered as a great leader who was gentle pacifist. To me he was a hero in the truest sense of the word. The hardship that he endured, the sacrifices that he made, the injustice that he lived under and the change that he introduced for the betterment of his people were nothing short of remarkable.
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela died on the 5th December 2013. He was 95 years old. His loss is greatly mourned by all of us who wish for unity and equity and peace amongst the human race. His demise is remembered by those of us who wish to live in a world that is devoid of conflicts that are born of hatred and greed and intolerance of race or skin colour or religion.
His legacy is forever written in the pages of history. He remains an inspiration.
‘Consilio et animus’ Nelson Mandela – ‘Resolute in action, gentle in manner’
May you rest in peace.