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Reflections on Mandela at 99




By Oluwole Sheriff Olusanya


It is in our hands to make the world a better place – Nelson Mandela


Tuesday 18th July, 2017 would mark the 99th posthumous birthday of Former South African President – Nelson Mandela. Since 2009, Nelson Mandela International day has been an annual international day in honuor of the late Madiba, that is celebrated each year on 18 July – his birthday. The day was officially declared by the United Nations in November 2009, with the first United Nations Mandela Day held on 18 July 2010. Mandela Day is not meant as a public holiday, but as a day to honour the legacy of Nelson Mandela and his values, through volunteering and community service. The Mandela Day is a global call to action that celebrates the idea that each individual has the power to transform the world, the ability to make an impact.

On Tuesday next week, the same day the Madiba would have been 99 years old if he was alive, a session of readings and roundtable discussion on the legacies of the late political activist cum politician would be held at the CRMMD Library, 138, Idimu-Egbeda Road, Idimu, Lagos and I would be delivering an address at the historic event. I would also be among the panel of discussants at the roundtable. This week’s article is themed according to the event and it would give us an overview of the life and times of the late Madiba and also offers relatable examples to the present league of African leaders.


A Brief Biography of Nelson Mandela

Rolihlahla Mandela was born into the Madiba clan in Mvezo, Transkei, on 18 July 1918. His mother was Nonqaphi Nosekeni and his father, Nkosi Mphakanyiswa Gadla Mandela, was the main advisor to the Acting King of the Thembu people, Jongintaba Dalindyebo. He received the name “Nelson” on his first day in primary school from his teacher Miss Mdingane. When he was 12 his father died and he was raised by the Regent at the Great Place in Mqhekezweni. He was sent to the best schools available and began studying a BA at Fort Hare University. When he was expelled for joining a student protest, the Regent told him to return or get married. So he ran away to Johannesburg with his cousin Justice. His first job in 1941 was as a security guard on a gold mine and then as a legal clerk in the law firm Witkin, Edelman and Sidelsky. At the same time, he completed his BA through Unisa.


In 1943 he enrolled for an LLB at Wits University. He was a poor student and became more involved in politics from 1944 after he helped to start the ANC Youth League. He married in the same year and needed money to support his family. By mid-1952 when the university asked him to pay the 27 pounds he owed or leave, he already had three children. He only started studying again in 1962 in prison. He finally graduated with an LLB through Unisa 27 years later. Later in 1952 he became the National Volunteer-in-Chief of the Defiance Campaign against apartheid laws. He and 19 others were later charged and sentenced to nine months, suspended for two years. In August he and Oliver Tambo started South Africa’s first black law firm, Mandela & Tambo.


In those days one could practice as an attorney with a two-year diploma. Later that year he was banned for the first time – he had to ask the government for permission whenever he needed to leave Johannesburg. After the adoption of the Freedom Charter in 1955, 156 people were arrested and charged with treason. The trial lasted four-and-a-half years until 29 March 1961 by which time all were acquitted. The ANC and PAC were banned after the 21 March 1961 killing by police of 69 unarmed protesters in Sharpeville. Mandela called on the government not to turn South Africa into a republic on 31 May 1961 but to discuss a non-racial constitution. He was ignored so he called for a strike on 29, 30 and 31 March. In June 1961 he was asked to lead the ANC’s armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe and it launched on 16 December that year. On 11 January 1962, Mandela secretly left South Africa to undergo military training and to get support from African countries for the armed struggle. He was arrested on 5 August and charged with leaving the country illegally and encouraging the strike. He was convicted and sentenced on 7 November 1962 to five years in prison. On 11 July 1963, a secret hideout he once used was raided by police. On 9 October 1963 he joined 10 others on trial for sabotage in the Rivonia Trial.


On 12 June 1964 he and seven others were sentenced to life imprisonment. While he was in prison his mother and his eldest son died. He was not allowed to attend their funerals. He spent 18 years on Robben Island, and while at Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town in 1985 he had to go to hospital. When Justice Minister Kobie Coetsee visited him, he had an idea: to see if the government wanted to talk about a one-day meeting with the ANC. In 1988 he was taken to hospital for tuberculosis. Three months later he was moved to Victor Verster Prison where he spent his last 14 months in prison. He was released on Sunday 11 February 1990, nine days after the unbanning of the ANC and the PAC. Other political prisoners were freed and exiles returned. The ANC began talking to the government about South Africa’s future. For this work he and President FW de Klerk won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, and on 27 April 1994, Mandela voted in South Africa’s first democratic elections. On 10 May 1994, he was inaugurated as South Africa’s first democratically elected President and stepped down after one term. In his retirement he worked on building schools and clinics, highlighting HIV, children and leadership. He died at his home in Johannesburg on 5th December 2013. (Source: Learners’ Biography)


The subsequent paragraphs would be dedicated to discussing the lessons and legacies, the life of the first black president South Africa ever had can teach the current league of African leaders.


v Peaceful Resolution of Crisis – Nelson Mendela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Norway sometimes in July, 1993 for his peaceful resolution of the country’s crisis. Gracious but steely, Mandela steered a country in turmoil toward a negotiated settlement: a country that days before its first democratic election remained violent, riven by divisive views and personalities. He endorsed national reconciliation, an idea he did not merely foster in the abstract, but performed with panache and conviction in reaching out to former adversaries. African leaders need to learn that peaceful resolution of crisis would go a long way to safe their countries from Humanitarian and economic crisis. The Arab spring illustrates my assertion.


v Tenure Elongation – Although the 1996 constitution allowed the president to serve two consecutive five-year terms, Mandela had never planned to stand for a second term in office. He gave his farewell speech to Parliament on 29 March 1999 when it adjourned prior to the 1999 general elections, after which he retired. Although opinion polls in South Africa showed wavering support for both the ANC and the government, Mandela himself remained highly popular, with 80% of South Africans polled in 1999 expressing satisfaction with his performance as president. Nelson Mendela’s legacy of leaving the presidential position when the ovation was loudest endeared him to many, myself included. He could have continued his second term and like most African leaders, made efforts to be President for life but he did not.


v Philanthropy – After actively retiring from politics, The Madiba started working with the Nelson Mandela Foundation, founded in 1999 to focus on rural development, school construction, and combating HIV/AIDS. This is another learning point for our leaders.


Conclusively, when I was told about my responsibilities at the pioneering Nelson Mandela Round-table in Nigeria, I was extremely humbled. It means a lot to be called upon to deliver such an address in an event in honor of the late Madiba because it means someone somewhere believes I have everything it takes to be the next Nelson Mandela.




God bless us all



Oluwole Olusanya is of Sterling Bank, Lagos


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