KA VOICECAST for Sunday, December 15th (2013)

KA Voicecast for Sunday, December 15th

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With Dan Blasor

Nelson Mandela is seen by many as a living legend and symbol that success can be achieved against an insurmountable adversary with courage and determination.

In brief, Mandela is a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary and politician who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He was the first black South African to hold the office. His government focused on dismantling the legacy of apartheid through tackling, poverty, inequality, institutionalised racism, and fostering racial reconciliation. He also served as the President of the African National Congress, or the ANC, from 1991 to 1997.

But his origins were far removed from these powerful positions.

He was born in a tiny African village to a family who bred sheep and cows, and was born with the name Rolihlahla Mandela. Very few children in that rural area attended school but he was lucky enough to be given a place at a Christian school, where it was a custom to give the children English names.  His teacher told him in his first days that from now on he would not be called Rolihlahla Mandela anymore but Nelson Mandela from then on. But he kept Rolihlala as his middle name. He has since said that he has no idea how or why the teacher picked that name for him.

His father died when he was young and his mother managed to get him into the care of the regent who acted as a stand-in King, as the king had died with only young children who were too young to rule. The king’s eldest son was only a young boy called Justice who was also under the care of the Regent. Nelson and Justice became friends and as wards of the Regent they were given further education right up to university level. Nelson was expected to become an advisor and councillor to Justice when he became King.

Nelsons interest in politics grew in his time at University, but he found himself in trouble when he disagreed with the way student council members were appointed. He refused to take part and instigated a boycott of the election. This led to him having to leave the University. The regent who had arranged his education was furious and this led Nelson and Justice to run away from the rural area and into the city of Johannesburg.

This was to prove a very tough time for the pair because of the different rules for blacks and whites. Nelson found getting work was tough, but he eventually found a job in a Law firm.  However, continuing his education and training was difficult too, as segregation meant that he was forced to walk across the city while white and Indian people could use the city’s tram system.

While living in Johannesburg, he became involved in anti-colonial politics and he joined the ANC. While working as a lawyer, he was repeatedly arrested for seditious activities and was prosecuted in a Treason Trial but was eventually found not guilty.  Although initially committed to non-violent protest, in association with the South African Communist Party, he co-founded a militant guerrilla group, and in 1961, he led a bombing campaign against government targets. In 1962 he was arrested, convicted of sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government, and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Mandela served 27 years in prison. But an international campaign lobbied for his release, which was finally granted in 1990 amid escalating civil strife. He became the president of the ANC, and during this time, Mandela published his autobiography and led negotiations with President F.W. de Klerk to abolish apartheid and establish multiracial elections in 1994.  He went on to lead the ANC party to victory, was elected President, and formed the Government of National Unity in an attempt to defuse ethnic tensions. As President, he established a new constitution and set up groups to investigate past human rights abuses.

His administration introduced measures to encourage land reform, combat poverty and expand healthcare services. Internationally, he acted as mediator between Libya and the United Kingdom in the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing trial. He declined to run for a second term, to focus on charitable work in combating poverty and HIV/AIDS through the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

He was a controversial figure, and many critics had denounced Mandela as a terrorist because of his involvement in the government bombings. He nevertheless gained international acclaim for his anti-colonial and anti-apartheid stance, having received over 250 awards, including the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize, the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Soviet Order of Lenin. He is held in deep respect within South Africa, where he is often referred to by his Xhosa clan name of Madiba or as Tata meaning Father; he is often described as “the father of the nation”.

While some may question some of his methods, his influence has significantly changed a troubled country for the better, and we offer a Happy Birthday to Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.

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