- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 5, 2013

Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison for his armed militancy against South Africa’s apartheid regime only to emerge as a global icon for peaceful resistance and become his nation’s first black president, died Thursday in Johannesburg after a long illness. He was 95.

South African President Jacob Zuma made the announcement at a news conference late Thursday, saying “we’ve lost our greatest son” and calling the Nobel Peace laureate “Mandiba,” the traditional clan name of Mr. Mandela.

At the White House, President Obama said Mr. Mandela “achieved more than could be expected of any man. Today, he has gone home. And we have lost one of the most influential, courageous, and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this earth.

“He no longer belongs to us. He belongs to the ages,” Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Mandela was surrounded by his family as a gaggle of reporters and TV cameras crowded near his house. He was hospitalized in June with a lung infection and released in September, but he had struggled with ill health for years.

Mr. Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 and was elected president a year later. He was widely regarded in South Africa as the “Father of the Nation,” but critics denounced him as a terrorist and communist sympathizer.

As president from 1994 to 1999, he promoted racial reconciliation and large social welfare programs. However, the economy remained sluggish and his government was beset by corruption scandals. Crime rose dramatically, causing waves of white flight in the late 1990s.

South Africans mourn

As the news spread across South Africa in the earliest hours of Friday morning, as many slept, Mr. Zuma said there would be a state funeral and ordered all national flags lowered to half-staff until then.

“First sleep in a Mandela-less world,” South African journalist Brendan Boyle tweeted. “We’re on our own now.”

Hundreds of people gathered at both the Mandela home in the Houghton neighborhood of Johannesburg and the nearby Soweto township, a massive shantytown where he lived during apartheid and which marked the status of blacks during that era.

But at both sites, The Associated Press reported that the mood was lively rather than somber as people sang and danced to mourn his death and celebrate his colossal life.

“He came here to Soweto as a lawyer and he led us. When he came out of jail in 1994, after 27 years, he did not come out a bitter man and encourage us to fight. No, he came out with a message of peace,” Mbulelo Radebe told reporters.

A man in Johannesburg blew on a vuvuzela, the plastic horn widely used at World Cup soccer games in 2010 — the hosting of which was part of Mr. Mandela’s legacy. The dismantling of apartheid ended decades of international isolation, including sporting and other cultural boycotts, and thus permitted South Africa to hold such a high-profile event.

Global leader

In his political retirement, Mr. Mandela promoted global anti-poverty campaigns, but he also became a fierce critic of President George W. Bush for failing to win U.N. approval for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and overthrow of dictator Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Mandela even accused Mr. Bush of racism because he defied the United Nations and Secretary-General Kofi Annan, born in the West African nation of Ghana.

“Is it because the secretary-general of the United Nations is now a black man?” Mr. Mandela asked. “They never did that when secretary-generals were white.”

Mr. Mandela spent much of his life struggling against apartheid, a system established in 1948 by descendants of Dutch settlers to control the black South African majority.

Mr. Mandela, a lawyer by profession, drifted toward opposition to the apartheid regime, which forcibly segregated South Africans by the racial qualifications of white, black, mixed-race and those who traced their heritage to India.

As a young man, he was influenced by left-wing, anti-colonial political figures such as Karl Marx, Fidel Castro and India’s Jawaharlal Nehru.

Tried for treason

By 1958, the ruling white National Party stripped blacks of their citizenship, and Mr. Mandela increased his defiant activities against the regime. He was a prominent member of the African National Congress, which originally adopted a policy of passive resistance against apartheid but later embraced violence against the military and white civilian targets.

Mr. Mandela and 150 other opponents of apartheid were arrested in 1956 on charges of treason in a trial that lasted nearly five years. All defendants were acquitted in 1961, but by that time Mr. Mandela was on the road to violent resistance against the white regime.

After the trial, Mr. Mandela and the South African Communist Party formed the armed wing of the ANC, called Umkhonto we Sizwe, or Spear of the Nation, and coordinated sabotage campaigns against military and government targets. He also planned for guerrilla war against the regime if the sabotage campaign failed to end apartheid.

Authorities arrested Mr. Mandela again in 1962 on charges of organizing labor strikes and attempting to leave the country illegally. He was sentenced to five years in prison and tried a third time in 1963 for sabotage and charges similar to treason.

At the famous Rivonian trial, north of Johannesburg, Mr. Mandela issued a declaration justifying his embrace of violence.

“I do not deny that I planned sabotage,” he told the court. “I did not plan it in a spirit of recklessness, nor because I have any love of violence. I planned it as a result of a calm and sober assessment of the political situation that had arisen after many years of tyranny, exploitation and oppression of my people by the whites.”

Mr. Mandela admitted that he helped form the armed wing of the ANC to “answer violence with violence.”

He concluded his remarks, declaring, “During my lifetime, I have dedicated myself to the struggle of the African people. … 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.”

Symbol of struggle

Mr. Mandela spent the next 27 years in prison and became an international symbol of the struggle against apartheid. He served some of his sentence in hard labor in a prison on Robben Island, off the coast of Cape Town, where he inspired so many other black inmates that the prison was known as “Mandela University.”

He was transferred to Pollsmoor Prison in a Cape Town suburb and later to Victor Verster Prison in Paarl 1988, where he remained until President F.W. de Klerk released him on Feb. 11, 1990.

At one point during the imprisonment, an earlier president, P.W. Botha, a fierce defender of apartheid, offered to release Mr. Mandela in 1985 if he renounced violence. Mr. Mandela rejected the offer, famously declaring that “only free men can negotiate [and] prisoners cannot enter into contracts.”

Mr. de Klerk released Mr. Mandela unconditionally and removed the ban on the ANC. Mr. Mandela continued to justify violence against apartheid, but he also expressed hope for a negotiated settlement.

Over the next four years, Mr. Mandela returned to the leadership of the ANC and worked with Mr. de Klerk to end the apartheid regime. The two leaders shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

‘Don’t call me’

Mr. Mandela has more than 250 awards for his leadership, including the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Soviet Order of Lenin.

In his personal life, Mr. Mandela was plagued by an adulterous wife, Winnie Mandela, who was later convicted of kidnapping and assault. They separated in 1992.

On April 24, 1994, Mr. Mandela won the presidency in South Africa’s first multiracial election. At the age of 75, he was the oldest elected president of South Africa.

During his one term, he promoted racial reconciliation and encouraged black South Africans to support the Springboks rugby team, a hated symbol of the apartheid regime. When the team won the Rugby World Cup in 1995, Mr. Mandela wore a Springboks team shirt and presented the trophy to the team captain.

In political retirement, Mr. Mandela promoted children’s charities and initiated the Nelson Mandela Invitational charitable golf tournament, which has raised more than $20 million since 2000.

Mr. Mandela’s health began to deteriorate in 2001 with a diagnosis of prostate cancer. He withdrew from public life in 2004, saying he would be available if needed but did not want to impose himself on events.

He said he wanted to be in the position of “calling you to ask whether I would be welcome, rather than being called upon to do things and participate in events.”

“My appeal, therefore, is: Don’t call me. I will call you.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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