The man that brought down South Africa's apartheid turned 90 years old yesterday. In commemoration, I figured I might as well give y’all a primer on Mandela’s OG status, just in case you weren’t up on game.
Way back in the day (say…1948), the Afrikaner National Party gained control of South Africa & implemented a strict segregation policy known as apartheid. The black residents of the country were stripped of their citizenship & classified as citizens of their tribal homelands instead (similar to American Indian tribal governments). They were regulated to economically fucked regions & denied the benefits of South Africa’s thriving economy. They also were denied suffrage outside of their “homelands” & that made the apartheid system nearly set in stone. The only people screwed over by apartheid couldn’t even use the political process to do anything about it! Of course, this shit wasn’t accepted by the black majority of South Africa & immediately after apartheid’s creation, an opposition movement was born. Mandela was at the forefront of the opposition from it’s inception, playing a major part in the creation of the African National Congress (the Afrikaner National Party’s nemesis). Along with his partner Oliver Tambo, Mandela ran a law firm that catered to poor blacks that ordinarily had no access to legal representation. He initially touted the non-violent methods of Gandhi as a means of dismantling apartheid and was arrested in a mass demonstration in 1956 on treason charges with 150 other protesters. The ensuing trial, known as the Treason Trial, lasted for nearly five years & ended in the acquittal of all those involved. The fiasco of the Treason Trials left the ANC in bad shape. Non-violence had proved to be too slow & ineffective, so Mandela co-founded the militant wing of the ANC to force apartheid’s demise. In 1961, he became the leader of this ANC branch, Umkhonto we Sizwe (loosely translated as Spear of the Nation & abbreviated as MK), and he coordinated a sabotage campaign against military and government targets. He trained freedom fighters, established diplomatic ties to other African nations, and prepared for full-on guerilla warfare.
As is usually the case in these stories, the CIA fouled up big. In 1962, they notified S. African officials of Mandela’s whereabouts & the rebel leader was apprehended. He was charged with inciting worker’s to strike & leaving the country illegally, then sentenced to five years in prison. While he was imprisoned, the government arrested ANC members willy-nilly & started to prepare the case intended to dismantle the resistance. What came to be known as the Rivonia Trial was a judicial attack on the ANC that charged Mandela with sabotage & lesser treason. In 1964, all but one ANC leader was found guilty & sentenced to life in prison. Mandela then spent 27 years locked up. He was offered his freedom in exchange for renouncing the struggle against apartheid, but refused. When he finally was released after South Africa’s hard-line president P.W. Botha was replaced in 1989-90 & Mandela immediately returned to work at the ANC. He spearheaded the efforts to have S Africa’s first inter-racial elections between 1990-94 and, unsurprisingly, was elected South Africa’s first black president in 1994.
As if surviving 27 years of prison, a lifetime of apartheid, and countless assassination attempts weren’t enough to prove Mandela’s place in history, the man was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, the Order of Merit & the Order of St. John from Queen Elizabeth, the Presidential Medal of Freedom from George W. Bush, was made an honorary Canadian citizen, received the Bharat Ratna award in India, and the Ataturk Peace Award in Turkey. Musicians have immortalized Mandela in songs such as “Mandela Day” by Simple Minds, “Mandela” by Santana, “Freedom Now” by Tracy Chapman, and “If Everyone Cared” by Nickelback. Stevie Wonder even dedicated “I Just Called to Say I Love You” to Mandela. Fuck, even I have a Nelson Mandela T-shirt (Wiley always said it looked like Sly & The Family Stone, but fuck him)!
In 1999, Mandela retired from political life & took up the duties of being an internationally recognized freedom fighter. He’s supported & advocated for the Make Poverty History campaign, is a big sponsor of the SOS Children’s Villages (an organization for orphaned children), and established the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund that funds various charities dealing with youngsters. He’s served as a spokesperson at the UN & other international organizations for disenfranchised African nations suffering from poverty and the AIDS epidemic. He even used the event of his 90th birthday to call on the world’s wealthy to spread the economic love to po’ folks.
Here’s to a genuine bad ass, Mr Nelson Mandela, for being a die-hard rebel & showing all of us that one person can & does change shit for the better. Get down with your bad self, NM, get down.