Former Republic of South African President Nelson Mandela has 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 non-racial democratic political system.
Mandela has been in hospital for several weeks suffering from a lung infection. His health has deteriorated over the last few years and 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 July 18. At the United Nations a special session was held where his contributions were acknowledged by former political prisoner and ANC official Andrew Mlangeni.
Mlangeni, 87, was convicted and sent to prison in 1964 with Mandela at the Rivonia Trial. He was released in 1990 during the same time period as Mandela when the former apartheid regime under F.W. DeKlerk began negotiations for the transferal of political power in South Africa.
After traveling to New York from South Africa, Mlangeni praised Mandela for opening the way for the end of racism inside the country. He noted that “We owe this freedom to the idol, Nelson Mandela.” (NY 1, July 18)
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said during the session that “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)
In Detroit at the Dr. Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Midtown, hundreds of people came to the facility and signed a birthday card to Mandela. The Museum had supported the liberation movement leader even during the period of incarceration in South Africa where he was detained for over 27 years.
South Africa Celebrates the Legacy of a Leader
In South Africa itself millions commemorated Mandela’s birthday on July 18. There has been a constant vigil outside the hospital where he is being treated now for several weeks.
During the course of the birthday celebrations and the days following, news reports indicated that there had been substantial progress in Mandela’s health although he remains in a critical condition. Outside the hospital people sang freedom songs and left gifts in his honor.
According to the Associated Press, the South African government issued a statement on the status of Mandela. “Zuma gave the update after visiting Mandela at the Pretoria hospital where he is receiving treatment. During the visit, he told the anti-apartheid leader of the love and support of all South Africans that was displayed at the leader’s 95th birthday celebrations on July 18, Zuma’s office said.”
South Africa: The Struggle Continues
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 in force. Today the South African working class and youth are still on the frontlines 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 saying “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)
This same 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 weSizwe, 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 (COSATU), 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 South African Communist Party and the ANC constituted the tripartite alliance that led to the fall of apartheid in 1994.
The COSATU statement on July 17 read in part that “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.” (cosatu.org.za)
COSATU continues stressing “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.”
The South African Communist Party (SACP) in its statement on July 18 emphasized that “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)
Mr. Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor for the Pan-African News Wire, is one of the frequent contributors for The 4th Media.