Forged in the crucible of blood, sweat and tears and born from the backwardness of institutionalized racism, South Africa today is an example, though still imperfect, of the triumph of the human spirit, and the determination of an oppressed people to be free. Indeed, South Africa and its Black leaders, past and present, come from a warrior stock that understood the nature of independence, and an African culture and belief system that were uniquely African.
But for over 300 years Black South Africans fought relentlessly against the intrusions of Dutch Boer settlers and British colonialists. The saga began in 1652 when the Dutch East India Co. set up a refreshment center for trading ships at what is now known as the Cape of Good Hope. From 1659 to 1898 in great wars of patriotism and resistance African leaders like Shaka Zulu, Makanda and Mzilikazi inflicted some of the heaviest defeats ever suffered by British colonialism.
But with superior weaponry these early grabbers of African lands and resources slaughtered hundreds and enslaved millions, gradually consolidating their hold. In 1910 the Union of South Africa came into being as part of the British Empire. This brutal and vicious settler regime instituted a "separate and unequal" society where whites had all the privileges and the majority Black indigenous population none. Gradually, by sheer brutality and unjust legislation, the white minority shoved Blacks off their historical ancestral lands grabbing over 70 percent of it for themselves. The Black population had to make do with 10 percent of the land and was re-located to slum dwellings in "townships."
In 1961 the country left the British Commonwealth and became an independent republic under continued white rule. But oppression breeds resistance and as far back as 1912 Black South Africans began to organize themselves for political action and struggle against the Boer government. The African Native National Congress the forerunner of the African National Congress (ANC) was formed in that year.
Six years later, on July 18, 1918, Nelson Mandela, who will be 101 years this year, was born in a small village in Transkei. And it was he and like-minded youths who formed the youth arm of the ANC and who in the wake of the Sharpeville Massacre of March 21, 1960, organized the military wing of the ANC, known as Umkhonto we Sizwe or Spear of the Nation, continuing the tradition of military struggle started by his ancestors.
Arrested and imprisoned by the South African government Nelson Mandela became the conscience of his nation and people, spending 27 years in prison. Unrepentant, uncompromising, and unbowed he was released on February 12, 1990, and became the first Black president of South Africa. In the twilight of this eventful and remarkable life, Nelson Mandela was an international living treasure, an icon so towering that he remained one of a handful of people who can chastise and criticize the world's powerful with impunity.
Nelson Mandela was the conscience of Africa and the world in a climate of militarism, wars, and strife. He's was forthright and refreshingly vocal on the global AIDS crisis, the unjust Iraq war, and highly critical of western leaders and their military adventuristic policies. Before his death On December 5, 2013, Madiba* (see below) had no more demons to conquer and no more hills to climb. His was a life that became fill circle he moved from prisoner to president, forced a racially polarized nation to confront its worst nightmares, and demonstrated the power of forgiveness.
He closed a horrible chapter in the history of this beautiful nation. Despite many social and economic problems and the lingering effects of apartheid newly freed South Africans are writing another more progressive chapter to their history book. The ancestors must be pleased.
[The clan or family name represents a person's ancestry. The meaning is deeper than a surname and is used as a sign of respect and affection. The origin of Madiba comes from a chief who ruled in the 18th century. Source the Nelson Mandela Foundation]