Nelson Mandela, one of the world’s most revered statesmen, who led the struggle to replace the apartheid regime of South Africa with a multi-racial democracy has died at home, surrounded by his family at the age of 95.
Nelson Mandela had been hospitalised four times since December 2012 and was taken to a hospital in Pretoria four months ago with a recurring lung infection. During this time, official news from the hospital had been quiet but family members had said that Mandela’s condition has improved and was expected to return home.
Mandela’s medical team advised President Jacob Zuma of a slight improvement in the former president’s health. He visited Mandela in hospital in Pretoria after abandoning a planned trip to a summit in Mozambique.
Mandela’s health is “perilous” and he is being kept alive by life support, according to documents filed in the court
Yet, it was confirmed earlier this evening. In a statement on South African national TV, Jacob Zuma said Mr Mandela had “departed” and was at peace. “Our nation has lost its greatest son,” Mr Zuma said.
He said Mr Mandela would receive a full state funeral, and flags would be flown at half-mast.
Nelson Mandela was 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, and the first elected in a fully representative, multiracial election. His government focused on dismantling the legacy of apartheid through tackling institutionalised racism, poverty and inequality, and fostering racial reconciliation. Politically an African nationalist and democratic socialist, he served as the President of the African National Congress (ANC) from 1991 to 1997. Internationally, Mandela was the Secretary General of the Non-Aligned Movement from 1998 to 1999.
He declined to run for a second term, and was succeeded by his deputy Thabo Mbeki, subsequently becoming an elder statesman.
You can find more information on the life of Nelson Mandela from the following links.
- Nelson Mandela – A life in Focus (Guardian.co.uk)
- Nelson Mandela (Biography.com )
- Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory
As an elder statesman, Mr Mandela focused on charitable work in combating poverty and HIV/AIDS through the Nelson Mandela Foundation which was founded in 1999.
In December 2000 Amidst a resounding standing ovation from the delegates at the Thirteenth International AIDS Conference in Durban, Nelson Mandela took the stage at the closing ceremony at the International Convention Centre and used this opportunity to add his voice to the worldwide struggle against HIV/AIDS.
Mandela said at the outset, ‘It is never my custom to use words lightly. If 27 years in prison and 27 years of silence in solitude have taught me anything, it is how precious words are!’
Referring to the controversy over major issues related to AIDS raised by South African President Thabo Mbeki, Mandela asked his countrymen to support their President and his scientific enquiry, saying, ‘The President of this country is a man of great intellect who takes scientific thinking very seriously and he leads a government that I know to be committed to those principles of science and reason.’
Stressing the need for us not to indulge in mud-slinging and worthless arguments, he said, ‘The ordinary people of the world, particularly the poor – who on our continent will again carry a disproportionate burden of this scourge – would wish that the dispute about the primacy of politics or science be put on the backburner and that we proceed to address the needs and concerns of those suffering and dying. And this can only be done in partnership. History will judge us harshly if we fail to do so right now.’
‘Wasting words and energy in worthless ridicule distracts us from our main course of action, which must be not only to develop an AIDS vaccine [sic], but also to love, care for, and comfort those who are dying of HIV/AIDS. A vaccine shall only prevent the further spread of HIV/AIDS to those not already infected; we must also direct our concern towards those who are already HIV positive.’
At the time, and still prevalent today in South Africa, employment opportunities and a dignified life are still a distant dream for HIV-positive patients even in the most advanced social set-ups. HIV positive patients are refused basic treatment in many medical facilities if they reveal their HIV-positive status and some doctors remain unwilling to attend to HIV-positive patients.
Mandela did not mince words when speaking on the magnitude of the AIDS pandemic. ‘Let us not equivocate: a tragedy of unprecedented proportions is unfolding in Africa. AIDS in Africa today is claiming more lives than the sum total of all wars, famines, floods, and the ravages of deadly diseases such as malaria.
‘It is devastating families and communities, overwhelming and depleting health care services, and robbing schools of both students and teachers. Business has suffered, or will suffer, losses of personnel, productivity and profits; economic growth is being undermined; and scarce development resources have to be diverted to deal with the consequences of the pandemic.
‘HIV/AIDS is having a devastating impact on families, communities, societies, and economies. Decades have been chopped from life expectancy and young child mortality is expected to more than double in the most severely affected countries of Africa. AIDS is clearly a disaster, effectively wiping out the development gains of the past decades and sabotaging the future.’
Society at large remains largely unprepared to meet the challenge of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. A massive effort is required if we are to successfully tackle the menace of HIV/AIDS. As Mandela put it, we need to ‘move from rhetoric to action, and action at an unprecedented scale…’.
Mandela had also stressed that HIV is wholly preventable. ‘I am shocked to learn that 1 in 2, that is, half, of our young people will die of AIDS. The most frightening thing is that all of these infections were preventable.’
Speaking on strategies to prevent the further spread of HIV, he pointed out, ‘The experiences of Uganda, Senegal and Thailand have shown that serious investments in, and mobilisation around, these actions make a real difference. Stigma and discrimination can be stopped, new infections can be prevented, and the capacity of families and communities to care for people living with HIV and AIDS can be enhanced.’
Outlining the future course of the war to contain the spread of HIV in South Africa, Mandela exhorted the delegates to remember that, ‘The challenge is to move from rhetoric to action, and action at an unprecedented intensity and scale. There is a need for us to focus on what we know works. We need to break the silence, banish stigma and discrimination, and ensure total inclusiveness within the struggle against AIDS.’
‘We need bold initiatives to prevent new infections among young people, and large-scale actions to prevent mother-to-child transmission, and at the same time we need to continue the international effort of searching for appropriate vaccines. We need to aggressively treat opportunistic infections, and work with families and communities to care for children and young people, to protect them from violence and abuse, and to ensure that they grow up in a safe and supportive environment.’
Nelson Mandela succeeded in issuing a call to action as the world prepared to enter the new century facing one of the biggest public health disasters mankind has ever known.
The non-profit organisation, “46664” (four, double six, six four) founded just a year prior to this speech takes its name from the prison number (prisoner number 466 of 1964) given to Mr Mandela when he was incarcerated for life on Robben Island, off Cape Town, South Africa. Mr Mandela gave his prison number to the organisation as a permanent reminder of the sacrifices he was prepared to make for a humanitarian and social justice causes he passionately believed in.
In creating 46664 initially as a global HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention campaign, Mr Mandela realised that to reach the youth all over the world specifically, he needed to engage the support of the people who most appeal to them. This has been seen most visibly through the high-profile 46664 concerts of the early ‘00’s and the appointment of 46664 ambassadors. The 46664 ambassadors are world famous and influential musicians, artists and sportsmen and women who are committed to supporting 46664 and the mandate its takes forward to find new hands to lift the burdens.
In addition, 46664 has expanded its focus from being a global HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention campaign into encompassing all areas of Mr Mandela’s humanitarian legacy as well as confronting issues of social injustice.
In January of 2005, Nelson Mandella announced that his eldest son, Makgatho Mandela has died of AIDS at the age of 54. Makgatho Mandela had been critically ill for several weeks after being admitted to a Johannesburg hospital late in 2004.
Mr Mandela cancelled several engagements over the holiday period to be close to his ailing eldest son and on Thursday, 6th January 2005 announced the cause of his son’s death, the former president said: “Let us give publicity to HIV/AIDS and not hide it, because [that is] the only way to make it appear like a normal illness.”
Mandela’s candour about his son’s illness undoubtedly helped to erode the stigma and prejudice surrounding HIV/AIDS. Compared to other world leaders, he has been forthright concerning the need to combat the pandemic. For these reasons, we appreciate Mandela and admire him. There is, after all, very little international leadership in the fight against HIV. Mandela’s commitment and openness is therefore commendable. It contrasts with the dishonesty and neglect of HIV/AIDS by others, in the East, West and Developing worlds.
Our friend, and International Patron, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, knows Nelson Mandela better than most people, and it was at Desmond Tutu’s house that Mandela spent his first night after his release from prison in 1990. Desmond Tutu once said that the world would never have met Mandela the statesman had he not first been Mandela the prisoner.
The Mandela who entered prison in 1962 was an angry young man; a left-wing radical branded a terrorist. But Desmond Tutu said prison reshaped Mandela’s soul. It was there he learned forgiveness, which became the hallmark of his presidency and enabled him to heal some of the wounds between South Africa’s two racial solitudes.
Nelson Mandela is proof of humanity’s power to transcend even the widest divides and deepest hatreds.
That is his enduring legacy.
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, 1918 – 2013 now at rest.
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