In November 2009, in recognition of the former South African President’s contribution to the culture of peace and freedom, UN General Assembly declares 18 July “Nelson Mandela International Day”. Resolution A/RES/64/13 recognizes Mandela’s values and his dedication to the service of humanity in conflict resolution; race relations; promotion and protection of human rights; reconciliation; gender equality and the rights of children and other vulnerable groups; the fight against poverty; the promotion of social justice. The resolution acknowledges his contribution to the struggle for democracy internationally and the promotion of a culture of peace throughout the world.
Nelson Mandela, whose successful struggle against South Africa’s apartheid system of racial segregation and discrimination made him a global symbol for the cause of human rights and earned him the Nobel Prize, would have turned 100 years old on Wednesday.
On the anniversary of his birth, here are 15 facts about the historic peacemaker who died in 2013.
- Mandela’s real first name is Rolihlahla, meaning “pulling the branch of a tree” or “troublemaker.” He was given the name Nelson by a teacher because, in the early 20th century, South African children were often given English names due to the colonial presence in the country.
- For over 20 years, Mandela worked for the African National Congress, the opposition party that advocated for black civil and human rights under apartheid.
- In 1952, he opened the first South African black law partnership with a friend. In the same year, Mandela traveled around South Africa, leading the African National Congress Campaign for the Defiance of Unjust Laws. He promoted the Freedom Charter, a statement of the core principles of the ANC that advocated for equality for all South African people.
- Mandela often disguised himself to escape being arrested for his political activity, dressing like a fieldworker or a chef to evade the police. Dressed as a chauffeur, Mandela was arrested on August 5, 1962 for inciting strikes and leaving the country without permission. He would be in jail until 1990, serving time in multiple prisons including Robben Island, where he spent 18 years.
- In 1963, Mandela was also charged with sabotage. At his trial, which is now known as the Rivonia Trial, he gave his famous Speech from the Dock, stating, “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.”
- Mandela earned his bachelor of law degree from the University of South Africa while imprisoned. Robben Island was jokingly called the “University of Robben Island” because many of Mandela’s fellow inmates learned to read and write and debated politics and history while serving time alongside the leader. Some inmates even earned “diplomas” signed by Mandela.
- In 1985, South African President P.W. Botha offered to release Mandela from prison if he would denounce armed rebellion in the country. Mandela refused, stating, “What freedom am I being offered while the organization of the people remains banned? Only free men can negotiate. A prisoner cannot enter into contracts.”
- Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, sharing the award with Frederik Willem de Klerk for the “peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa.”
- Nelson Mandela was the first black president of South Africa from 1994-1999 and the first president elected after the end of apartheid, an extensive system of segregation and discrimination based on race.
- Mandela’s administration focused on closing the disparity in wealth and resources between white and black South Africans. In 1994, nearly 30 percent of South Africans lacked a safe supply of water. In 1999, that number was approximately 20 percent. During Mandela’s administration, 1.5 million more South African children were enrolled in school and 2 million people gained access to electricity. Mandela was also a champion of women’s rights around the world. In his state of the nation address in 1994, he said, “Freedom cannot be achieved unless the women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression.”
- Mandela was a firm believer in education, publicly stating, “Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.”
- Mandela has received over 200 different awards for his contributions to peace in South Africa, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
- After his son died from complications surrounding HIV/AIDS, Mandela worked to fight stigma against the disease. In announcing the death of his son, Mandela said, “Let us give publicity to HIV/AIDS and not hide it, because the only way to make it appear like a normal illness like TB, like cancer, is always to come out and to say somebody has died because of HIV/AIDS.”
- Mandela helped popularize the “Madiba shirt,” a traditional silk shirt typically with a colorful print.
- On Dec. 5, 2013 Nelson Mandela died at home in Houghton, South Africa, due to a recurring lung infection. Mandela’s memorial service was held at the First National Bank Stadium in Johannesburg. It was attended by family, South African leaders and more than 91 heads of state. Many South Africans refer to Mandela as “mkhulu,” which means grandfather in Zulu.
Sources: un.org and usatoday.com