He spent most of his life as a third class citizen, denied rights, forbidden basic freedoms, banned from even walking in areas frequented by whites. Because he chose to speak up and fight for justice, he was even banned from attending meetings or talking to more than one individual at a time.
He said, “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.” And, he almost did, spending another 27 years in prison because the government perceived him as a threat, not even allowed to attend the funerals of his mother and his first-born son.
In prison, he didn’t even have a name, known simply as Prisoner 46664. His name was Nelson Mandela, and throughout all his ordeals, he never gave up. He fought for justice, he fought for freedom, he fought for equality for his people.
When the government offered him a deal in which he would be given his freedom if he in turn gave up on his beliefs and his party’s struggle against apartheid, he declined, choosing to stand up for his people, to stand against apartheid, institutionalized racism, poverty and inequality. He would say “There is no such thing as part freedom.”
On, July 18, Nelson Mandela will be celebrating his 95th birthday as the man who led his country out of apartheid and served as President of South Africa, the first ever to be elected in a fully representative democratic election, introducing free health care to children, providing social services, increasing education, and bringing justice to a country that had imprisoned him for a quarter of a century.
As he stated, there is a long road to freedom, with many hills and mountains to climb. But, those mountains can be conquered because “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Never give up… because as Nelson Mandela says, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
Happy 95th Birthday, Madiba, get well.