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Remembering Nelson Mandela, a staunch peacemaker


– By Firdous Khan

July 18 is Nelson Mandela International Day or simply Mandela Day. Officially declared by United Nations back in 2009, the day is celebrated annually to honour one of the greatest Peacemaker of all times Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. A great champion of individual rights, freedom fighter, a Nobel laureate, the first black president of South Africa and last but not least an icon of peace-making and reconciliation.

Born and brought up in a family of Chieftains in South Africa, he rose to light during the Apartheid movement and became a global icon of resistance, freeing his country from the shackles of Apartheid.


Apartheid was basically a state policy employed by ruling White minority in South Africa against non-white majority, in which the latter were highly discriminated and forced to live in crammed spaces away from White population. Though Racial segregation was highly practiced in South Africa before 1948 but as the National Party gained office that year, the policy was extended and named Apartheid.

As this policy was socially, politically, ethically and morally wrong and against the ethos of human conscience, Nelson Mandela joined the resistance movement with African National Congress and didn’t stopped until he freed himself, his people and south Africa from this menace. And in between he became an international symbol of strength and hope.

Freedom and equality were very dear to Mandela. His overarching commitment to freedom became clear during his trial for sabotage in 1963 and while facing death penalty his words to the court became immortalised, “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.” 

Saved his country from Civil War

When Mandela was released from prison in 1990s, South Africa was on boil. The blacks have been coerced from decades by white minority. It was time of retaliation as calls of revenge were echoing and everyone was sensing the country will plunge into a catastrophic Civil War. Though on one side negotiations were on but on the other tensions and even massacres were rampant. Despite all odds Mandela’s resolve for a peaceful settlement grew stronger. Debates and discussions were held at length between Mandela lead African National Congress, F W De Klerk’s National Party and many other small factions/parties to deliberate and dismantle the apartheid system that privileged white south Africans.

 Though at times the multi-party negotiations collapsed amidst disagreement between parties but his noted leadership and magnanimity kept him devoted to a path of Peaceful settlement only. At each juncture he made the right call. While on a visit to Malaysia on behalf of ANC, he caught up with a journalist David Greybe and explained to him why he still didn’t trust de Klerk, then South African President. But nevertheless, he remained committed to a negotiated peace process because for Mandela, the alternative was unthinkable.

 It was this strong will that paved way for a peaceful and negotiated constitutional settlement that ultimately played a pivotal role in preventing the country from slipping into a civil war.

A leader of great aclibre

It is undoubtedly not everyone’s cup of tea to spend more than 27 years in prison and talk about peace and forgiveness on return. Despite the terrible provocation he and his people received at the hands of white minority over decades, he never talked-about revenge and didn’t answer racism with racism. It was only his highness that he even accepted to share Nobel peace prize with his enemy in 1993.

On Peace his words are magic. For him peace is not just the absence of conflict, but creation of an environment where all can flourish, regardless of race, colour, creed, religion, gender, class, caste or any other social markers of difference.

Mandela was truly an amazing leader who spend his life for the cause of truth, justice and equality. Madiba as Mandela was affectionately known never compromised his devotion to democracy, equality and learning. His humanist approach in a brutalized country like South Africa has inspired generations and will continue to do so.

Often referred as the Gandhi of South Africa, he was greatly influenced by the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. It was this influence that he chose to visit India first when he was released from prison in 1990.

Mandela was an epitome of sacrifice. He endured long 27-year tough time in prison and turned down the conditional offers of freedom offered to him by the apartheid regime. He sticked to his words even during last weeks in prison to advocate nationalizing banks, mines and monopoly industries- a stance aimed to bring about greater economic equality in South African society.

Role in post-apartheid South Africa

As Nelson Mandela and de Klerk finally reached a Peaceful agreement on the future of South Africa at the end of 1993, the subsequent election results (fought on Universal Suffrage) made him (Mandela) the first black president of South Africa. All coercive laws of apartheid were thrown to bin and a new constitution with robust protection for Individual rights was adopted.

The establishment of Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) by Mandela with fellow Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu became an important milestone. It allowed human rights offenders of all races to admit their crimes publicly in return for lenient treatment. The domestic body helped to uncover the truth about gross human rights violations rampant during the apartheid regime. Though whites saw it as selectively targeting them and blacks viewed its actions futile that allowed perpetrators of heinous crimes to go free, it nonetheless proved to be a kind of national therapy that healed the wounds of apartheid and become a model for other countries emerging from prolonged strife. It was a unique and prudent step for reconciling the South African Community that was marred with injustice and violence from decades.

As Madiba’s democratically elected presidency’s first term ended in 1999, he stepped down and bid good bye to politics. This decision of him proved yet again he was a revered leader and not a power grabber. Thereafter, he devoted his time to promote peace around the world and became involved with many charities for children and education. Though presently he is not physically with us but will be remembered forever and ever for his extraordinary courage, wisdom and generosity. His exemplary commitment towards peace will serve as stepping stones for all peace lovers across the globe.

(Firdous Khan is a student at Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Jamia Millia Islamia New Delhi. Email: [email protected])