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How Nelson Mandela became a global icon for peace

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How Nelson Mandela became a global icon for peace


“The world remains beset by so much human suffering, poverty and deprivation. It is in your hands to make of our world a better one for all.”

- Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela

July 18, 2010, his birthday, marked the celebration of the first Nelson Mandela international Day. He was 92.

The UN-recognised annual commemoration was in honour of what it called ‘Mandela’s contribution to resolving conflicts and promoting race relations, human rights and reconciliation.’

As a young man, he brought the long struggle for democracy- and against apartheid – in South Africa to the world’s attention. As leader of the African National Congress, he initially chose a strategy of civil disobedience.

Then came the Sharpeville massacre in 1960. When 69 black protesters were killed, Mandela said it was futile to talk peace and non-violence with a government whose only response was savage attacks.

In 1963, Mandela was arrested and sentenced to life in prison. It wasn’t until February 11, 1990 that he was finally released. The announcement came after 27 years of languishing in Robben Island prison.

FW de Klerk, seventh and last State President of apartheid-era South Africa said:

“The government has taken a firm decision to release Mr. Mandela unconditionally.”

Both de Klerk and Mandela were awarded the Nobel peace prize in 1993.

In 1994, Mandela was sworn in as president after the country’s first multi-racial elections.

In 1999,he handed over power to his trusted friend Thabo Mbeki. In retirement Mandela was still active until he finally said goodbye to life in the public eye in 2004.

“I am now retiring from retirement, and if I have to [make a] call, I will call myself. I would prefer that nobody call me.”

But Mandela continued to be the face of numerous fights, including the battle against AIDS, which claimed the life of one of his sons.

More personal sorrow came later: as his country began hosting the 2010 football World Cup, he learned a grand-daughter had been killed in a road accident.

His health was failing but he still welcomed visitors, such as American First Lady Michelle Obama in 2011 and former US President Bill Clinton, for his 94th birthday.

In November 2012, the national bank put Mandela’s face on its new notes.By now it was recognised with respect all over the world.

“I’m very happy that I’ve lived until now and I hope that many South Africans and other people in the world will live like this. So that they could be the object of admiration.”

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